MEF in India: Connecting with a Country of Contrasts

colin_milesColin Miles, MEF Asia Chair and VP of Corporate Marketing at InternetQ reflects on the first MEF Connects India event, recently held in Mumbai – @ColinMiles

When such an astonishing country of contrasts as India represents, hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it’s good to report something positive that points to a better future for everyone.

That thing of course, is Mobile – and in recognition of its impact plus its overall importance in the country, MEF marshalled a host of industry leaders and top national players to a gathering with a touch of élan that only MEF can symbiotically produce around the world, namely MEF Connects India, which was held on Monday 22nd April.

Like April in Paris?

Selecting Mumbai as the inaugural event venue and locating it at the brand new French-owned Accor Sofitel, the placement somehow reflected the avant-garde spirit of a business firmly rooted in the historical domain of Operators – yet mixed with all the panache of the movie and music industry surrounding it. This contrasted much like the squat slums that surround the opulent malls and financial district emerging nearby: Paris met Bollywood in an effusive neo art nouveaux fashion!

It’s patently clear that Mobile phones, more than 850 million them nationwide at last count, have unleashed an astounding array of services, both for those office workers busy in the metropolis as well as for the peasant farmer’s hard-at-work in rural villages who had been previously untouched by technology & international satellite communications.

With this is mind, MEF has walked the cinder path to one of the most populous phone penetrations on the planet, but with recent regulatory matters in vogue it’s fair to say everyone steps carefully.

The Formalities

MEF Connects India

Seeking market insight and concomitantly believing we can provide some useful global industry insights and partnering opportunities to this disparate community, MEF invited industry leader and consistently compelling speaker Mr Sashi Shankar, Chief Marketing Officer of IDEA Cellular. Shashi addressed the gathered array of industry elite with a call to action on building Consumer Trust and leveraging the new opportunities for innovation and monetisation around mobile data.

The impressive group included our charter sponsors; Hungama, IMI Mobile and Comviva – who had themselves helped manage a host of complex logistics. Alongside fellow MEF members, the event was also graced by CEO Rimma Perelmuter who had flown in from London, and Asia MD Paul Meyers who had traveled, as had I,  from nearby Singapore. As Asia Chairman, I took up the role of ad hoc Emcee for the party.

Various happy announcements included the introduction of Board member Milind Pathak from One97 Communications and also the recent election of Albert Almeida from Hungama to the position of Vice Chair; thereby reflecting MEF’s commitment to India and its belief that more can be achieved locally. This was embellished by a speech from Rimma to welcome guests and highlight the importance of India as powerhouse that has caught the attention of MEF and its members.  Rimma welcomed current India members and invited guests to join MEF to elevate their global presence and partnering opportunities,  and work with us to shape and accelerate the Industry’s growth.

The Talking Points

IDEA Cellular is one of the country’s biggest operators with some 113 million subscribers and with this in mind, Sashi gave us a charmingly pragmatic insight into the challenges for Mobile VAS, past and present; but more importantly also outlined some of the future opportunities that are growing with the penetration of internet-connected smartphones – currently seven per cent of his total base.

His wide-ranging speech covered all the elements of insight gathered over years of service and in particular the leapfrog potential that mobile gives to the nation. In terms of focus, it’s not clear whether the tidal wave of social networks have yet to derail the standard VAS offering; with Sashi stating categorically that his market was all about Music, Movies and Sport – and really not much in between in terms of consumption patterns.

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Instant Feedback

In the productive mingling session after the talk, guests began to firmly address the question of the future. Where are the young guns? Those nimble players that can anticipate and provide solutions which add multi-screen functionality to a subscribers’ everyday world? Well, it can be seen almost daily with the graphics showing live twitter polling walls during the fast-paced almost Bollywood-like renditions of cricket matches known as IPL – and surely, with the local micro-blog service GupShup.

It can been witnessed every day during Ad-breaks on TV, phone after phone being advertised for a users’ delight including a compelling range of OEM/ODM phones such as MicroMax and Karbonn, now featuring a quad core touch screen handset running Android that matches anything from the west and all for a price of USD$200. These units however, are already being discounted further!

The Next Wave

MEF as an Association is about raising the water for all concerned, so that our boats can collectively float higher. We feel India can benefit greatly from this inclusive ‘ecosystem’ approach and more especially given the best practice guidelines that are becoming de rigueur. I’ve just read a book called “India Rising” – and that is exactly what’s happening in mobile terms across the country, the mobile tide is rising fast; so it makes sense for all our members to catch the wave.

Colin Miles is VP of Corporate Marketing at InternetQ and chairman of the MEF Asia Board and you can follow him on Twitter @ColinMiles.

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