The Evolution of Connectivity in India

The Evolution of Connectivity

For many, it seems like yesterday when the rotary dial landline telephone was the way to communicate, and then there is the millennial generation for which smartphones and 4G internet is the norm and are puzzled by the sounds of the dial up internet connection that once meant the gate to a world beyond.  This is a view of The evolution of connectivity.

What started out as a status symbol over two decades ago has now become an essential part of the majority of the population’s lives today.

Humans are social beings and like being acknowledged. It is on the foundation of this reality that the communication industry has been and continues being built. And this industry has been the backbone of globalization. People now travel half the way around the globe for work or leisure without the fear of staying cut off from their families and friends for a long time. Fear of accidents and medical emergencies has reduced over generations with assistance available a phone call away, even when they are away from their landlines.

The evolution of connectivity, communication, and its effects on the global culture has been revolutionary.

With letters being replaced by landlines, and after a century of the general population being familiarized with the idea of talking to someone far away, mobile phones are now found in the hands of rikshaw-pullers of India, thanks to economical manufacturing capabilities of the mobile industry.

But the world was a very different place even a mere 40 years ago, and it has been a very interesting journey so far.

As opposed to the sleek pocket sized smartphones with touchscreens today, the first mobile phone that was introduced in 1973 weighed 1.1 kilograms (2.4 lbs).

The first mobile network was launched by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in 1983, followed by Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) the same year in Europe.

The first phone to phone SMS was sent in Finland 1993.

The first network to introduce prepaid mobile was Vodacom in November, 1996, in South Africa.

This concept was then developed by Vodafone UK, who launched ‘ Pay as you Talk’ in Oct 1997, selling a GSM phone at new kinds of retailers such as Comet and one year later into supermarkets such as Tesco (mobile phones were only being sold in specialist phone retailers before).

Competition makes evolution of an industry faster. The telecom industry was no exception. With the other companies forced to provide better services as soon as a revolutionary product was introduced to the market, while still trying to manage their resources to survive, the story of the evolution of technology of communication remains unprecedented to this day.

For its success, every company tries to target as much of the population as it can for sales. For that reason, India and China’s population became extremely important. With China’s customers restricted to domestic companies, and India beginning to buy products from beyond its borders in the 1990’s, the world held its breath as the possibilities with telecommunications was unveiled.

India’s cellular service was inaugurated on the 31st of July, 1995. Government owned companies BSNL and VSNL were joined by private companies like Airtel, Idea, to later be joined by Vodafone (Hutchison Max at that time) in 1999, Reliance in 2003 and Docomo in 2009.

The growth was slow at first with even incoming calls being charged at Rs 16/minute. It registered the first 5 million subscribers over 5 years. Today, it’s averaging an addition of 17 million subscribers every month, with over 200 million new cell phone users being added every year!

With the growing demand of cellphones, the manufacturers required the metals to make it, especially gold, a lot of which was mined in Congo. Since it was a conflict mineral, this became one of the triggering factors of the Second Congo War, that claimed nearly 5.5 million lives.

Over the years, there are people making a living by extracting gold from dumped electronics.

Every street in India had at least one shop where they could buy prepaid recharge for cash, who are now catering to reducing number of customers everyday with the onset of online payments.

In 2003, the telecom companies in India collectively decided to make incoming calls free.

Over time, 1G was followed by 2G and 3G, smartphones came along, internet was accessed by phones and data was integrated with mobile tariff plans.

The telecom companies tried to market different plans tailored for the demographics.

SIM cards for families were sold bundled together, so if calls between them were at lower rates.

International calling plans (ISD) with lower rates for calls to the gulf countries were made for people in Kerala, since many of whose relatives work in the gulf countries.

International calling plans (ISD) with lower rates for calls to USA and Canada were made for people in Punjab, since many had immigrated to USA and Canada.

Paytm, an online company that stared off offering deals for mobile recharges, went on to become a major payment portal for people to use with various vendors. Today multiple payment portal companies are following its footsteps like Freecharge and Mobikwik.

Things were moving along fine, until, on 5th September 2016, the ground was yanked away from beneath the telecom companies’ feet.

Jio was launched by Mukesh Ambani and 1GB 3G data that costed Rs 250, was suddenly available at 1GB/day for Rs 100 for 28 days (28 GB) with unlimited calling and SMS.

Every company started posting losses. Many small players like Videocon, Aircel, Reliance Telecommunications, shut down their operations. Vodafone and Idea merged to become the world’s largest telecom services provider.

With Jio forcing its competitors to provide better plans with more data for the same prices, it has now resulted in many YouTube vloggers from around the world making videos about Indian food, travel, movies, who are guaranteed to get thousands of views to their channel if India is in the title, because Indians now have ample data available to use!

Parents who used to cut their kids’ calls and called them back so the kid’s balance isn’t exhausted are now reminded over the call that it doesn’t matter anymore with the unlimited calling feature.

It’s a tough time for telecom companies around the world, as they are projected to lose around $380 billion because of apps like Skype and Whatsapp, as they miss out on the international call charges and roaming rates.

Companies around the world follow different business practices. For example, companies in USA charge the lowest rates for a 2 year contract, offering discounts for the first year. Then there are non contractual plans, for which the retention department offers discounts to those who want to switch services after the first year of discounted rates. There are no contractual plans for prepaid phones in India, and the retention department is not as generous when compared to companies in USA.

These are very interesting times, with companies learning to move to the next step of the technological ladder and adapt to the changing world. 5G is due to be launched globally in 2020. Though its tough to anticipate what lies ahead, there is one thing we can be absolutely sure of. It will never cease to be amazing on the evolution of connectivity.


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