Telecom operator BSNL has more than 2.5 million 3G subscribers, NK Yadav, Head of Value Added Services for BSNL, said at the VAS India conference in Mumbai last week. “Last year, we got 1 million customers, but mostly in northern circles. At present we have more than 2.5 million 3G customrs in 650 cities, with almost all circles covered, but this is hardly 3% of the total wireless base of 90 million (BSNL subscribers). Monthly additions are hitting 8% in 3G connections.”

Data Surpasses Caller Tunes For BSNL

Most of BSNL’s 3G value added services are through BSNL live, and according to Yadav, Data has become the main revenue earner for BSNL in Non-SMS VAS, surpassing Caller Tunes for BSNL. Yadav said that the data usage on BSNL networks has increased six-fold, but didn’t mention whether this was by virtue of USB data card usage, or through mobile handsets. Also note that later that day, an industry exec suggested to us that BSNL was among the last to launch caller tunes, and they didn’t have much of a subscriber base anyway.

2G and 3G ARPUs Comparable

“The addition in the postpaid customers has increased. We’re concerned about 3G ARPUs. Because of the tariff wars, if you see the the 2G and 3G VAS revenues, surprisingly, it is not as expected. Normally, the 3G ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) is expected to be higher (than 2G). We find them comparable.” Yadav added that for BSNL, ARPU is Rs. 90 for prepaid subscribers, and around Rs. 360 for post-paid customers. Around 95% of BSNL’s user base is prepaid.

Challenges Which 3G Poses

Yadav pointed out a few issues that are holding back the growth of 3G services (on BSNL networks, we guess):
– Network Issues: Poor overage and “3G holes”, because of which customers are switched from 3G to 2G, which causes dissatisfaction. Additionally, the data pipes in cities are choked.. He pointed out that 3G applications need to be able to take care of 2G and 3G switchovers, so the customer experience is not spoilt.
– Handset Issues: Yadav pointed out that handsets that haven’t been data enabled are (obviously) a deterrant when it comes to data consumption. In Pre-Paid, BSNL has already data enabled 95% of the data capable handsets, and more than 50% of handsets (on their network) are data capable. “But,” he added “active users, who are browsing on data every week, are no more than 10%. This is mainly due to lack of awareness among customers, and data settings that are required. We have to see to it how this problem can be solved.”

Addressing Discovery Issues

Yadav had two interesting suggestions for addressing discovery issues: that Handset vendors can help customers by providing preset menus for different telecom operators, which will be useful in a mobile number portability scenario. Secondly, he said that BSNL had recommended to India’s Department of Telecom that one should have the same numbering scheme across telecom operators for specific services, similar to the 1-level codes that are there for emergency services: for example, the same number for e-governance across telecom operators, so the customer doesn’t have to remember different codes for different operators.

Circuit Switched Videos vs Packet Switched

“Our learning (on videos) is that for the customers in the initial phase,” Yadav said, “we have to give more emphasis to circuit switched videos (over packet switched). That’s why we’ve also launched services with (access number) 51010.” Circuit Switched videos are accessible by dialing a number, while packet switched are mobile web based, and accessed via a URL. Yadav pointed out that typing out URLs is not easy for consumers.