LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS 2014: How to connect the rest of the world’s population to the internet has been a dominant theme at Mobile World Congress 2014, with the cost of networks and devices held up as two of the biggest hurdles to achieving this aim.
Manoj Kohli, Managing Director and CEO of Bharti Airtel, said emerging markets typically had between 3 per cent and 7 per cent smartphone penetration, and he welcomed moves this week to bring prices down.
“People cannot afford them,” said Kohli during a panel session on Wednesday at MWC. “$25 is the sweet spot for emerging markets…if we hit this sweet spot then we are getting there.”
The comments come shortly after Mozilla announced a partnership with chipmaker Spreadtrum, intended to enable devices at this price point.
Kohli also said networks must be IP on an end-to-end basis, “or it will not work” to bring the internet to the next 3.5 billion.
The executive added that emerging markets will also likely make jumps in technology rather than following the linear path of more developed markets.
He pointed out that many people in markets such as India will never access the internet via a desktop computer, but instead will move straight to smartphones or tablets.
Tapping into emerging markets is certainly likely to bring several obstacles along the way, with spectrum availability and electricity supply among the problems to solve.
However, the panellists in a separate discussion on business models all warned that a single approach is not possible to address all of these markets: “There is no one way to approach emerging markets,” stressed Nathan Eagle, co-founder and CEO of Jana. “There are no short cuts.”
Nevertheless, Globe Telecom COO George Peter Bithos offered hope that it is possible to make money from very low ARPUs of around $2: “We are already pretty good at that,” he said.
His challenge now is to get more of the 100 million people in the Philippines to use his data network. To achieve this requires new and innovative approaches to services, he said.