Thursday, October 18, 2007

India’s Broadband Drop Surprises Analysts

This week’s nugget was unearthed in an Economic Times article that claimed, to everyone’s surprise, India’s fixed broadband subscription rates fell last quarter. The total number of Internet connections dropped to 9.22 million between April and June from 9.27 million the previous quarter. The article and related blogs speculate on the possible causes for this drop: unstable connections, poor service and bandwidth constraints. It may be that Indians are turning to their mobile devices to access the web. According to the Economic Times, 38 million people, or more than a fifth of India's 200 million-plus mobile subscribers, access the web via their handsets.

This drop in broadband Internet connections is small for a country the size of India. However, the lack of growth and the strength of mobile Internet access are notable. Fixed broadband availability and usage rates have often been used as an input for measuring a country’s technical maturity. The increasing sophistication of mobile devices may change that. Historical growth trends would have predicted that India’s broadband rates would continue to increase and certainly not slow, let alone fall. This demonstrates a weakness in historical-based approaches and confirms that new markets require new methods of evaluation. Applying developed-country adoption trends to developing-country markets leads business managers to design inappropriate strategies in emerging markets.

Technology is being adopted faster in emerging markets than in mature economies. Moreover, adoption and usage patterns may differ considerably. Consumer cash flow constraints, the stability and availability of a local infrastructure, technology awareness, and access to various technology devices all impact adoption curves. Therefore, historical growth trends are only one input among many to credibly forecast emerging-market growth. In a market like India, these factors can help project dramatic shifts in technology usage patterns. The increasing use of mobile phones for Internet access is yet another sign that IT and telecommunications strategies can no longer be considered in isolation, especially in emerging markets. Both industries will be competing more and more for access to the limited disposable income of developing-country customers.

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