The proverb ” a picture is worth a thousand words” is often much abused. But in the time of mobile applications and photo sharing, that proverb has almost come true. Over time, we have moved to a model where we prefer to share and create content with friends and family rather than speak to them. In fact the successor to Quora seems to be a new mobile application called Jelly where folks are required to take snapshots of the item they cant recognize or the problem they are facing and upload the snapshot so they can get answers to their questions.
This and the evolution of multiple VoIP apps has resulted in a new conundrum, do mobile carriers focus on voice or data? Even though phones are fundamentally a voice driven network, we live in a world where people share information mostly through data driven channels, partly because of the lower costs and the greater efficiency. Thus players like Airtel in India and AT & T abroad have realized that they are forced to spend on infrastructure and thus are slowly raising the costs on data plans to pass this onward to the customer. In the past, the focus of mobile players has been to push customers to high speed networks where they consume more data, thus helping the carriers earn more. But carriers have come to the realization that they need to cover their costs else data consumption will end up straining their infrastructure.
A classic example of strain on infrastructure is the case of Vodaphone when they dropped their 3G rates and ended up gaining many customers but losing out on maintaining quality of service ( QoS). Thus their existing customers felt alienated and disappointed and in the long run, Vodaphone probably ended up losing customers specifically high paying satisfied customers who would not have shifted otherwise.
A more important question is whether voice rates will be increasing in India. Currently we have some of the cheapest voice rates as compared to across the world. But with a greater interest in data, it might just see the emergence of plans with strong focus on data and limited focus on voice. Tie ups with strategic firms like Facebook and Google might also drive their specific apps such as Whatsapp and Hangout further .
That said, much needs to be done by the carriers. If we compare the network penetration and quality vis a vis nations such as Singapore/ South Korea, we need to improve QoS and efficiency by huge measures. Equally importantly, the Government or TRAI needs to step in to ensure that the data being created and shared isnt misused by any of the carriers or application developers. This is of crucial importance in the future as we reach a point where we could be competing with major Chinese or US players (WeChat has strong ties with the Chinese Govt for example and we have seen how tech giants have collaborated with the US Govt in the past) both in business and outside business.