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Eyes set on India: Korean Mobile manufacturers [ 2006.06.19 ]

The Indian cellular phone industry is relatively new (as compared to the developed nations of the west) and also one of the few in the world which has standardized GSM and CDMA technology. This technology mix has proven a bottleneck for some, while being a boon for others. It certainly has worked well for the Korean mobile handset manufacturers, who were late entrants into the Indian market and penetrated well in the CDMA markets through strategic partnerships with cellular providers. LG and Samsung entered India only after 1996, that too in the consumer electronics. Their foray into the handset market was much later. By the time they made an entry, Nokia and Motorola had established an early lead selling their GSM phones. Though Nokia was way ahead of its competition in India, Motorola was number two player, whereas other European manufacturers like Ericsson and Alcatel were also present in the market.

LG and Samsung did not enter the telecom market until 1998, and by that time the Europeans and Americans had taken a considerable share of the Indian market. Just about the time the Koreans started challenging Nokia and Motorola on their dominance in the world market, they entered the Indian market as well. India became a strategic point and a challenging market for everyone. China was experiencing phenomenal growth, just when India was getting started. These companies realized that as soon as the Chinese market peaks, the Indians would provide the numbers essential to fuel growth for these companies as well. The emerging markets of China, India and Latin America have so much promise, that the saturated markets of the west are not as attractive as they were a few years ago. The obsession of Samsung and LG with the American markets subsided and they looked at the emerging markets as their answer for growth.

Presently, after understanding the true market potential of the emerging markets; the Koreans are ecstatic about the future growth. These markets are growing at unexpected levels and optimism surrounds all the market players. Gartner, Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis on the global information technology industry, estimates, that global mobile phone sales will exceed one billion by 2009, fuelled by skyrocket growth in emerging markets like Brazil, China and India. According to Ann Liang, Gartner's principal analyst for mobile terminals in the region, "China and India alone will account for nearly 200 million units in 2007, with the Indian market surpassing China in 2009 to reach 139 million units." Additionally, 100 million phones sold in 2006 would be 3G phones, whereas 200 million of the total phones sold in 2008 would be smart phones. "The Indian market is growing rapidly and the mobile penetration rate is still low,” says Seoul based Gartner analyst, Song Sauk- Hun. The penetration levels of cellular in India at present is estimated to be 6-7% (appendix 2), but is certain to increase to more than 25% by 2010. With close to 200 million new connections to be added in the next five years, along with handset replacement sales, just task of adding up these figures is gigantic. The analysts are going bonkers over India and its market potential, but these estimates are very achievable if backed by smart marketing by the cellular providers to increase connections, plus if the government continues with their liberalization in the Indian Telecom sector.

“Mobile phone consumption is primarily driven by network operators or carriers (GSM/CDMA) and not by any manufacturers,” says Percy P Batlivala, general manager-South West Asia, Personal Communication Sector, Motorola India. This confirms the viewpoint that mobile penetration is dependant on how operators drive their strategy to increase their customer base. With Reliance (CDMA) and Bharti (GSM) leading the pack of aggressive cellular providers, and with further consolidation going on in the cellular providers market, the cellular subscribers are coming in large numbers. Growth is mostly concentrated in the urban areas at the moment, but the real test would be the rural sector, where penetration is very low and the reach is limited. "To sustain India's economic growth, it is imperative to take the benefits of mobile communications to the rural consumers," adds Manoj Kohli, president of mobility at Bharti Tele-Ventures. Recently, Nokia Corp. has been awarded a $125 million contract to expand digital mobile networks for India's leading telecommunications company Bharti Tele-Ventures, doubling its network capacity. After this infrastructure is expanded Bharti will cover more that 5,000 towns and villages in India, a must for growth. "An encouraging regulatory regime, falling rates and growing geographical penetration of networks is driving mobile growth in India," said Kobita Desai, principal analyst at Gartner. Modern India will aim to follow suit in all sectors, but for now the cellular market with the likes of Bharti and Reliance are leading India in the 21st century, towards a nation of cellular users, a nation where mobile lines have surpassed the landlines.

Local manufacturing is expected to help India cut the $165 million it spends each month to import phones. With fierce competition and cutthroat margins, along with huge advertising budgets, cellular manufacturers are coming and setting plants in India too. Though assembling of phones has been the norm so far, with the expected growth and competition, a 2-3 per cent savings in margins would be reason enough to set up shop in India. LG has always been the industry leader in India, in terms of Localization of production. They have already invested in a plant in Western India, which is assembling cellular phones, with manufacturing on the agenda pretty soon, in addition to other consumer electronic products. LG’s optimism about the Indian market is a very hot issue, since they revised their revenue targets for India. LG perceive that they will achieve revenues of $10 billion from their India operations by 2010, of which $ 3.5 billion would be from mobile handsets, though half of them would be exported. Keeping in view the Gartner analysis and the expected growth rate of the Indian cellular market, LG is not insane with these announcements. Nokia has also shown its commitment towards India by announcing plans to invest $ 150 million in a manufacturing unit, in the southern port city of Chennai (location of Hyundai plant as well). Elcoteq will spend about $150 million on its plant, which will have the capacity to produce 10 million handsets a year by 2006. Cost saving is not the only reason why the manufacturers are setting base in India. Henry Gilchrist, Elcoteq's Asia Pacific marketing director emphasizes the fact that, "Demand from the domestic market is a substantive springboard for economies of scale and for developing a good supply base that will provide export opportunities for India” . Apart from that India’s abundant supply of inexpensive and talented software professionals is a potent attraction for these manufacturers to set up their Research and Design facilities. All said and done the Koreans are preparing and performing well to cash-in on the investments they so smartly made in India.

Dheeraj Sachdeva, Research Fellow at Yonsei University


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