3G Life: Stretching the limits

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3GIndia has been waiting for experiencing 3G for a long time and it has been a case of so near and yet so far. Finally, we are about to usher in the 3G era and the good news is that India is likely to leapfrog technology with HSPA implementation in place of WCDMA. This means that the 3G experience in India is likely to be great from day 1. India has seen very low penetration of  Internet due to low PC penetration and limited content in vernacular language. However, the mobile penetration is in excess of  40% (real penetration) and hence, in my opinion 3G can be the tipping point for broadband penetration in India. Many emerging markets including India and China are challenged by poor infrastructure. Governments can use 3G in the areas of health and education to overcome some of the infrastructure problems in the country.

What could consumers do with 3G?

3G in India is likely to be a good experience with theoretical max of 7.2 mbps speeds. This means that the mobile broadband will be much faster than the fixed internet experienced by Indians so far. Lets have a closer look at the possibilities that can unfold in future and how 3G is going to change the life. The possibilities that are listed here are equally relevant to other markets outside India whether developed or emerging. In fact most of these services are already being offered in some part of the world.

1. Video Calling: The social connect in the India is higher than most other countries and people are not so much concerned about the the privacy. Hence, video calling can be a real success in India if the technological issues of interoperability can be sorted out. Video calling would be a boon for people living away from their families and loved ones. Teenagers in love can see each other while talking and imagine the joy on the face of grand parents who can see their grandchild taking first steps. Video chat was possible in fixed internet as well but the mobility aspect of handsets adds new meaning to the whole experience. Even Apple has been talking about the potential of video calling while promoting ‘Face Time’. One of the ads of Apple below demonstrates the concept of video calling

2. Faster Browsing: The browsing experience on 2G is very patchy with intermittent access to internet. The small screen of mobile phones plus the low browsing speeds resulted in high monthly churn and low repeat usage. However, with 3G, the subscribers would start to browse more often. The proliferation of 3G enabled netbooks and tablets is likely to provide further impetus to 3G adoption. With the increasing mobile broadband penetration, the content in local language would also start to appear. The local language content availability in China is the single most important reason for high internet adoption.

3. Videos: India is an entertainment hungry nation. When I was working with a mobile operator, I realized that the mobile entertainment is much bigger in smaller towns where there is no there entertainment option available. With 3G, I believe that video and live Television can be big. Most of the households still have one television though the individual tastes differ across family members. I do visualize a lot of young family members accessing video on demand and Youtube on their mobile phones while leaving the traditional TV for the elders to watch their daily soap operas.

A lot of applications today focus on user engagement and interactivity. With 3G, the faster speeds would mean that people would start to use such applications. The concerts can be beamed live on the mobile handsets and the viewers can send in their requests using their mobile or can give their feedback. The video below is a discussion on what can the consumers do with 3G and video.

4. Internet access becomes personal: Currently, there are 3-4 people sharing the same internet connection. At the same time, people have multiple internet connections like the mobile internet, data card and fixed internet to be able to surf the net depending on their location. I can clearly imagine, individuals using internet on their mobiles while on the move and then using the mobile phone as a modem to connect to the internet on their laptops and PCs. This would result in people surrendering their data cards and fixed internet and using only the 3G connection on mobile to access the internet. This would mean that people would no longer share the internet connection. For people who would still want to share, there are applications like Jaiku that would convert the mobile phone into a WiFi router.

5. Augmented Reality: One of the key features of a mobile phone is the camera. Camera is like an eye and can be used to as a key input for search. Imagine how much fun it would be you could Point and Find about something just by taking a picture of that thing, such as snapping a picture of a music CD to look up for reviews and listen to the tracks or looking up recommend places to visit by taking a picture of a famous landmark. Augmented reality takes Point and Find a step further and adds information and meaning to a real object or place. This means if you are a tourist in a completely unknown place, you can get all the information you want to search by just holding the camera phone in front of the building or place. The use cases of this kind of technology can be in finding the nearest tube in an entirely new geography, finding about the houses that could be on sale in a locality and the ask prices for the properties, etc.  Click here to read about other such exciting possibilities and see the videos of what is being done on mobile search using augmented reality. The video below explains how augment reality is being used in finding the nearest tube station.

6. Video Blogging: With 3G technology, it would be easy to upload any captured video on to the internet. Many people who are not able to find time for conventional blogging may choose to video blog. In a video, thoughts can be explained better and I would not be surprised if many of the conventional bloggers also adopt video blogging.

8. User Generated content: With faster 3G speeds, the users would find it easy to upload their pictures, music and video on to the cloud. This would give further impetus to user generated content and is likely to benefit the sites like Youtube, Picassa, etc. Even video blogging explained above is a manifestation of user generated content.

9. Mobile Healthcare (mHealth) : The health infrastructure is virtually absent in the rural areas. Even in the smaller towns, the access to quality heathcare and qualified doctors is limited. With the advent of 3G, the health centers in rural areas can consult remotely with the doctors in the city. mHealth applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of health care information to practitioners, researchers, and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, and direct provision of care (via mobile telemedicine).  3G would help in turning the mHealth applications into reality. In my last article, I had written about the immense potential of mobile healthcare. McKinsey has estimated that the opportunities in mHealth are worth $50 to $60 billion.

10. Remote Education: In many developing countries, including India, there are not enough schools and teachers in rural and small towns. With 3G, it would be possible to have remote classes with qualified teachers taking classes for students who so far did not have access to quality education. Even personalized coaching can be provided to students to get them up to speed for some of the competitive exams. Remote education would not only give impetus to education but also throw up a lot of opportunities for startups.  Teaching English language real time itself can be a billion dollar opportunity.

The video below explains the concept of remote education using computers but with 3G, mobile would soon replace computers.

11. Agriculture Consultancy: Farmers often face the problems related to lack of knowledge and lack of access to experts. With 3G, they can not only consult with the experts but can also get the soil tested remotely so that individualized consultation can be provided. State run television used to have a 30 min to 60 minutes program for agricultural advice but with mobile phones, it would be possible to provided localised advice as and when required.

12. Mobile Market Place: Information and access to market place is key to improving the lives of millions of farmers across the world. Many mobile market places can be encouraged by the Governments across the globe to enhance transparency and removal of middle men. Fishermen trying to find out the best price for their catch even before they reach the shore is an often celebrated story but I would like the start-ups to look beyond providing this simple information and set up mobile market places which can help the farmers get more money for their produce. Given the high mobile penetration and low PC penetration, the mobile market place and not on the web alone would be only viable solution.

13. Unique Identification Number: The UID project of Government of India would get a big boost with 3G. Due to faster speeds in the 3G environment, the authentication process would be very fast and would help the UID authorities in their objective of having a mobile device for authentication. This should bring down the overall cost of managing the authentication process. A lot of other emerging markets may look to replicate the Indian unique identification number model.

In summary, there are a number of ways in which the consumers can get engaged on 3G and the society can also benefit from faster access to information. People would find their own use cases. Some would use it for just faster browsing while some would use applications and videos requiring faster speeds. One thing is clear that post 3G, the life for mobile users in India is set to change. 3G would be a reality on the Diwali day (5th Nov, 2010) when Tata Docomo is going to launch its 3G services. Till that time I can only say – Get set for 3G life.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my employer.

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