If India is expected to have over 300 million mobile internet users by 2017, and smartphone penetration in rural India is believed to be around 38 per cent, it’s worth considering the size of the opportunity lost when non-metro consumers in India aren’t tapped for products and services.
Alongside, though, those with commercial interests among target consumers have to consider what it might take to attract ‘sticky’ users in large numbers.
Mubble Networks, a company that helps prepaid mobile users track their telecom spends and data usage, says its core audience is in Tier-2 towns.
Says Ashwin Ramaswamy, CEO and Co-founder of Mubble: “Close to 95 per cent of India and 80 per cent of the world is on pre-paid mobile services. It’s not so much about incomes as it is about mindset. Prepaid users want to control and limit exposure to the operator.”
Market and user traits
Pre-paid mobile subscriptions have been popular in Europe. According to Ramaswamy, countries where post-paid subscribers are a majority are seeing a shift towards pre-paid data services.
The United States seems to be going in this direction, while much of South-East Asia is on prepaid mobile and data connections.
“You can constantly lose balance with stuff that’s operating in the background. In post-paid connections, your bill keeps shooting up. Many people use prepaid connections as a cut-off valve,” says Ramaswamy.
Dual SIM phones are especially popular in a market like India. Users tend to maintain one SIM for data while keeping the other for calls alone. Ramaswamy says that consumers outside metros represent more of an entitlement economy than generally understood.
“Some 20-30 km from Bengaluru, pre-paid starts to dominate. Nearly 90 per cent of our audience comes from non-metro towns. That means, places like Mysuru, Hosur, Nagpur, Jhansi. We believe it’s about value maximisation. Prepaid users are rational maximisers,” he explains.
Mubble is an Android application and is aimed at shortly serving consumers in prepaid-intensive geographies like Africa and South America. To network operators in India, it currently functions as a distributor. This keeps Mubble consumer-friendly and operator-agnostic.
Mubble has hit over three million downloads but significantly, it claims to have half a million active users. The company has applied for patents in ‘digital fingerprinting’ and ‘on-device analytics’.
“On-device analytics take very little data from the user back to the server. The only data that we take is so that pre-paid pack recommendations and the like can come to you. Every technology of ours works on the phone and this is linked to privacy,” he says.
Mubble also claims to have kept its app light at 4 MB. It will ensure the app can work offline, even as many popular consumer-focused apps are 15-20 MB in size — even if they soon need to reach parts of India that struggle with poor connectivity and unreliable networks.
Mubble is available in seven Indian languages so as to better serve Tier 2 and 3 geographies. “We’re aiming to enable the full cycle of the prepaid mobile and data experience,” says Ramaswamy.