3G subscribers form 2 percent of India's mobile users

Cheaper 3G and 4G services and smartphone devices will go a long way in addressing the country's low adoption rate of next-generation wireless technologies.

I have written in the past about how 3G services have not picked up in India, but it was not possible to get the exact 3G subscriber base figures.

Now, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released that number: only 2 percent of the total number of cellphone users in India, or around 18 million, has signed up for 3G. India has 893.8 million cellphone users, according to TRAI.

3G services were launched in India nearly two years back in January 2011. These came after the 34-day long auction of 3G spectrum that took place between April and May 2010, which raised INR 677.2 billion (US$14.6 billion) for the Indian government.

Initially, most consumers found the 3G coverage to be patchy and the experience to be inconsistent. However, of late, this is improving and operators are taking initiatives to enhance the 3G experience.

For instance, Tata Teleservices has launched a series of "educational" initiatives, beginning with an experiential campaign at Tata Docomo Dive-In stores where anyone could walk in and experience the 3G service personally.

But it's not just the patchy service which is a problem. In India, only 3 percent of cellphone users have smartphones. Moreover, the pricing of 3G continues to remain a constraint for a large chunk of users. And reports point to the fact that only 3 percent to 4 percent of mobile subscribers use their phones to access the Internet.

Mobile is surely the best way to increase Internet penetration in India, which today stands at 10.2 percent. But, in a low ARPU (average revenue per user) market such as India, both 3G and 4G services need to become more affordable for a large chunk of people in order for them to enjoy the benefits of 3G and 4G technologies. 

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