2010 in Review–The Year When Mobile Startups Flew ‘Kites’

What about Kites? Well, Kites is a Bollywood movie that carried huge expectation, but went bust on the day 1 itself.

In Love With Operator
Flying Kites: In Love With Operator

Something similar happened with Mobile/VAS ecosystem in India and most importantly, with the Indian telecom industry.

Inflated Subscriber Numbers

500 million? 600 million?

Telecom operators reported skyrocketing number of 682 million subscribers (i.e. 58% penetration) in the month of September 2010.

Since spectrum allotment is done in proportion to subscriber base, telecom operators have enough incentive to inflate this number. September of 2010, TRAI shared the actual subscriber numbers which stands at ~70% of the reported numbers, i.e. 478 million.

2G Scam

The recent 2G scam is one of the worst scams in the country and while government demystifies the real story, expect lesser investment in this space.
Apart from the monetary loss (INR 1.76 L Crores), this has also brought shame and most importantly, eroded the confidence in India’s telecom story.

“When any industry comes under scanner, all the stakeholders also come under the scanner… It does affect credibility.” –[Quote  by Spice Mobility/ASSOCHAM president, Dilip Modi].

Mobile Startups : Funding Anyone?

Big Became Bigger – that’s the sweet and short summary of Indian mobile VAS industry.

There hasn’t been a lot of action in funding space, as small players haven’t been able to go big and the good old story of 70:30 (Operator:VAS player revenue share) continues.

Aside, one of the most heartbreaking news for mobile startups was shutdown of Bharti Airtel Innovation fund (and lack of other funding stories in VAS/App space). And to add to this, some of the significant funding has happened from VCs outside India (which says a lot about Indian investors’ approach towards this ecosystem).

Does this mean that mobile startups need to go roaming (and can find a better match outside India, when it comes to funding)?

What about App Developers?

2010 witnessed the rise of mobile app stores in the country. Right from Aircel to Airtel – everybody has one, but no one is talking about monetization. Everybody is talking about their size, but no one is talking about the ecosystem or the economy of app stores.

There hardly are details of Operator’s roadmap regarding app stores and how are they going to work with app developers on the same. So far, it seems like a Scatter Gun Strategy.

The Good News

– Finally, 3G auction went through and we have already started seeing launch of 3G services. Content is the key here and expect app startups to rise to the occasion.

– Rise of Micromax. An inspiring ‘Made in India’ story, Micromax has certainly arrived and the company has been gaining ground owing to its foray into Android devices. The reason Micromax growth is so important for others to take note is not just because of the rising market share, but because of the fact that company has managed to find a product-to-market fit in an already crowded market (dominated by MNC brands).

To summarize, mobile VAS/APP ecosystem needs a fresh approach and most of the investors in this space aren’t the ones who will risk their $$s in one app, one vas offering. And that’s tricky for app/vas startups as it calls for dilution.

But the journey continues.

What’s your take on this ecosystem? What will 2011 mean for VAS/App startups?

[This is part of our series on 2010 Review where we bring the most significant coverage of digital industry in the Year 2010]

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