Companies that have attempted to bundle services with wireless devices, both in mature and developing countries, are working hard to find the right business model. In the US, consumers may balk at committing to $1000 to $1,500 in service plans over two years to save $100 on a machine that connects readily (and at no cost) to public Wi-Fi signals, albeit for lower data speeds. In emerging markets, companies like MTS (Russia), Telefonica (Latin America), and Orange, Vodafone, and T-Mobile (Asia and Eastern Europe) have had to find willing, reliable subscribers among consumers with a shallow credit history and a preference for pre-paid mobile phone services.
Nevertheless, several factors make service/wireless device bundles an attractive opportunity in emerging markets. First, the wireless infrastructure in many urban areas is maturing rapidly due to continued investment and a strong competitive landscape, prompting increased demand for mobile web-enabled devices. Second, a comparatively low monthly service charge is a proven method of overcoming high initial capital costs and the lack of easy financing and credit faced by many emerging-market consumers. A decade ago, Telmex radically increased Internet penetration in Mexico by bundling PCs with fixed-line Internet services. And consumers in countries like Brazil and Mexico have amply demonstrated a willingness to buy consumer electronics in installments through retail outlets like Casas Bahia and Grupo Elektra. These retailers are leading candidates for partnership with service providers and device manufacturers, since they have already invested heavily in credit and payment tracking systems. Finally, hardware and software companies may also be supportive of service/device bundles if they get legitimate, branded versions of their products into the hands of a particularly wired sub-segment of the market. Operators will still have to do their homework to identify the right markets and craft pricing and partnership agreements that make everyone happy. But a well-conceived service/wireless device model may be a winning idea for many companies with the goal of increasing their revenues in emerging markets.