Emerging Markets Communications Strategies

Analyzes the issues facing existing and new players who are looking for a share of growing mobile markets in over 30 developing countries, including the developing regions of Asia and Africa.

July 28, 2010 02:07 telliott

For some time now, a dominant cultural meme – a word I use experimentally and won’t repeat, since it evoked a fierce gag reflex as I typed it – holds that there will be more of everything in the future, especially people, and that stuff will cost more, unless it’s digital hardware in which case it will cost less and there will be way more of it.

Real estate crashes and the more serious specter of deflation suggest that in fact stuff may not always cost more. And according to UN demographers, while global population will continue to rise for some time, there are places where population is shrinking.

This sounds like good news, considering global warming etc., but it may not be, if your business depends on selling more stuff next year than you did this year. Fewer customers just makes your job harder. And if that shrinking customer base already has a lot of your stuff, it’s harder still.

Consider the situation in the developing world, as shown in the chart below, which plots mobile subscription penetration against projected population growth for 135 countries. (I ran out of label space in the middle; email me if you’re curious and I’ll send you the whole list.) pop-vs-pen.jpg

Rapidly growing population and low mobile penetration (lower right of the chart) does not necessarily mean a country is a terrific opportunity. Afghanistan, for example, has some issues as a business environment. But the scenario of high mobile penetration and shrinking population (upper left) raises a unique set of challenges to growth.

Clearly, penetration on a user basis in these countries is lower than 100%; subscription penetration is particularly high in Russia and elsewhere because of multiple SIM and multiple device ownership. So it is not the case that everybody who wants a mobile phone already has one. But an awful lot of them do. And a shrinking population means fewer first time buyers are entering the market.

Clearly, the focus for an operator in a developing country with high penetration and low or negative population growth needs to be different than in the more usual case of emerging markets with rapid population growth and low penetration. Loyalty and churn reduction become critical, as does revenue enhancement through incremental service offerings, and in particular, cold-eyed and ruthless cost justification of network expansion. If you build it, they won’t come if they’re just not there.

June 8, 2010 17:06 rgupta

Realizing the potential emerging markets have, Research in Motion (RIM) has upped its ante and is going full hog in the Chinese market, a market which has been a strong hold of Chinese handset manufacturers.  China Mobile launched Blackberry three years back, and now China Telecom is going to launch Blackberry handsets on its EVDO network. Not only this, RIM’s venture capital arm, Blackberry Partners Fund, which invests in Blackberry applications, has joined hands with China Broadband Capital partners to set-up a US$ 100 million fund for mobile internet and development of Chinese mobile applications in China.  Content localization or developing applications in local language is nothing new for established handset vendors. Nokia’s low cost handsets are available in 11 Indian languages and are offering Chinese content on its devices in China as well. But what’s more important is targeting the right audience at the right time and on the right platform.  Now that two major mobile operators are launching Blackberry on their networks, covering most of the Chinese population, RIM has made the right move to take advantage of the situation. At present Blackberry handsets have been mainly used by high end executives due to high device cost. Applications like email etc are accessed in English, which is not a preferred language in China.   Now that RIM’s focus is on consumer applications and 3G subscribers has been increasing every passing day, Chinese applications on Blackberry devices could make a killing in the Chinese market. It’s not rare for Chinese subscribers to have Chinese applications on mobile devices but it certainly makes a difference if a subscriber finds similar applications on Blackberry devices.  But just offering Chinese applications on the Blackberry may not be enough to ensure RIM’s success. Chinese handset vendors and other vendors like Nokia and Samsung are already offering such applications on their devices. RIM will have to differentiate itself from the already crowded Chinese market by launching some niche applications targeted at different consumer segments. But whether it will be able to make a difference in China, only time will tell.

Rahul Gupta

June 4, 2010 20:06 David Kerr
sa photo dk




The inevitable movement to tiered pricing which started with Verizon Wireless acknowledging its plans to do so for LTE and has been accelerated with the much anticipated data plan announcement by AT&T this week.  So, what next?

    • Will we see significant priced based competition for mobile data among the top US operators?
    • Will we see significant movement in share of adds for AT&T as iPhone wannabees are tempted by a plan of only $15?
    • What impact will lower data plans for smartphones have on AT&T’s Quick Messaging Devices and Verizon Wireless equivalent?
    • How long before we see family data plans and shared usage across multiple devices?

The move by AT&T is a smart play to extend the smartphone momentum as the low hanging fruit of Apple aficionados, multimedia techies and style seekers willing to pay top dollar has been significantly penetrated.

There is no doubt that the iPhone remains the coolest device on the marketplace and the end to end user experience remains easily the best in class. So, reducing the TCO to attract the next 20% of customers to a paid data plans while educating customers about data usage levels and managing the traffic risk is very smart business in my opinion.

The lower price points will help AT&T maintain its current leading share of smartphone users and may be attractive to casual social networkers

  • Although the 50 photos allowance is not exactly generous! For casual messenger, and social network status checking and moderate email the new DataPlus plan is quite attractive overall and will likely attract a portion of customers who would otherwise opt for a Quick Messaging Device from AT&T or a competitive offering from Verizon Wireless.

I do expect to see some modest price competition among the big operators

  • with T-Mobile most likely to drive prices lower given their need for scale and to protect their predominantly youth centric customer base. but also expect an increasingly strong Verizon Wireless handset line up to compete strongly.

The impact on Quick Messaging Devices is in my opinion likely to be modest

  • as a traditional qwerty remains overwhelmingly the input of choice for heavy messengers in the US although there is definitely room for lowering the $10 mandatory data plan on featurephones

Family data plans and data plans which allow access across multiple devices are in the pipeline

  • but will probably not make an appearance until 2012+ as part of LTE offerings.

From a device vendor perspective, the move to lower priced iPhone plans is likely to put further pressure on vendors like LG who have yet to make a credible offer in this space as well as RIM who will find more competition in the consumer space.

The lower pricing on data plans will be music to the ears of ambitious new entrants like Huawei, ZTE who plan to bring mass market priced devices to the US & Europe. The lower TCO of smartphones as a result of downward pressure on service prices boost their addressable market.

February 24, 2010 14:02 telliott
My late husband, the President of Nigeria, left me a large telecommunications company. I need someone of your skills and reputation to help privatize it. Please send me your bank information …  Well, it probably didn’t happen like that, but the flap about China Unicom’s alleged participation in a bid for Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. (Nitel), Nigeria’s national telecoms carrier, does make you wonder if they should tune their spam filters a bit. The story, in brief: On Tuesday, 16 February a consortium called New Generation Ltd., which allegedly included China Unicom, was reported to have won an auction for Nitel, with a bid of US$ 2.5 billion. This was $1.5 billion more than the next highest bid. Bloggers muttered darkly about inside deals. Wait, it gets better.
  • On Wednesday, China Unicom denied being part of the consortium. It had only offered to serve as technical advisor, although it might eventually be interested in an equity stake. (Original reports cited a figure of at least 20% ownership, though China Unicom’s subsequent official statement confirming their interest did not quantify it.)
  • Interested parties then started trying to contact another consortium partner, referred to in the first press releases as “Dubai-based Minerva Group.”
    • I emailed the Dubai office of Minerva Financial Services, based in the Channel Islands. They were not the Minerva in question, did not know who was, and – reading between the lines – rather wished people would stop asking.
    • The Lagos Daily Champion got similar denials from two other Minervas in Dubai, including Minerva FZ, a wireless VAD, which is at least halfway plausible.
    • Reuters reports that calls to Minerva General Trading were not returned.
  • In case New Generation disappears, the second bidder, at $956 million, is scarcely a household word in telecommunications, either: Omen International, registered in the British Virgin Islands. Go ahead, Google them and see if you find more than I did.
Entertainment value aside, what can we get from this mess? It would be tempting, but unwise, to decide that Nigeria should be avoided until it starts acting more like Switzerland. That could be a long time, and meanwhile Africa’s largest mobile market presents some real opportunities – along with equally real challenges. The fact that China Unicom – generally speaking, no dummies – would consider an equity position ought to suggest that serious players are weighing the risks and rewards. But don’t bring your checkbook to the first meeting. - Tom Elliott Update, 10 March 2010. In a development that should surprise no one, it has been reported today that the head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the agency supervising the sale, has been sacked. Well, technically "suspended," but I suspect it amounts to the same thing.

December 4, 2009 15:12 David Kerr

sa photo dk 

As we rapidly close the cover on one of the toughest years the telecommunications, content and internet industries have ever seen, SA takes a look ahead beyond the recession to detail the key megatrends for the mobile industry in 2010.

We see a tough but positive mobile ecosystem outlook with devices recovering stronger than services. More consolidation is likely among network operators, while profits for device vendors will continue to flow away from handset only vendors in favor of device/services integration specialists. Emerging markets will continue to dominate volume with strong 3G rollout competition expected. The global market for services, applications, devices and infrastructure will post modest growth of approximately 3% in 2010.

The total mobile industry revenue including services, infrastructure and devices was flat in 2009. We expect a modest growth of 2.8% in 2010 to $1140B.

· In 2009, only strong growth in data spends by users ensured that total industry revenues did not decline. Data revenues grew 9.5% in 2009 and are expected to grow at a 13% rate in 2010 reaching over $200B.

· Handset market sell through revenue will rebound well in 2010, posting growth of 4% while the infrastructure market will continue to struggle and will decline slightly.


Key issues shaping the 2010 landscape include:

  • Operators needing to balance the the strong rise in Capex requirements driven by the data traffic explosion against slow revenue growth. The likely outcome being significant M&A, network sharing and even applications development.
  • Handset OEMs will be forced will put the early stake in the ground for new device categories. Traditional OEMS will continue to struggle to match the Apple & Google vertical integration strategy which has proven so successful.
  • As the big five vendors focus on smart phones and content/services in the open markets, a race develops to get services/apps onto feature phone products or other operator customized devices
  • On-portal traffic continues to grow but is outpaced by off portal session growth. Contextualization and personalization of the user experience will determine winners and losers.
  • The rapid diffusion of Flash and HTML 5 on handsets could negate much of the need for mediacos to use open platforms/app stores in mature markets.
  • In the business sector we see SMEs and Manage Mobility as key battlegrounds. We see growth in hosted services for SMEs (e.g. Unified Communications infrastructure-one phone mobile and fixed, one voicemail etc.  Personal v corporate liable devices (iPhone v BlackBerry) becomes a major issue.
  • In the Emerging Markets area we see consolidation & 3G expansion in urban areas as key battlegrounds. With improved financing prospects, there will be significant consolidation among regional operators and rationalization of holdings.