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Internet Enabled Mobile Phones: Usage Patterns

Leapfrogging into the future

Research on usage pattern of internet enabled mobile phones in rural India and its implications as an agent of rural empowerment

Executive Summary

The Indian telecom sector has witnessed exponential growth over the past decade. With huge reduction in tariffs and lowering of the prices of handsets mobile phones have become an integral part of the lives of people even in the rural areas. With high end mobile phones being available at almost economical rates anyone can enjoy the power of internet. The possibilities this scenario offers are immense. If utilized properly internet enabled mobile phones can revolutionize the lives of people all over India.
This research aims at studying the usage pattern of mobile phones with focus on internet enabled phones in rural India. The study was conducted in Tiruchirappalli and Pudukkottai districts of Tamil Nadu and made use of qualitative in depth interviews as the mode of study. The research aims to understand the attitude of people towards mobile phones and existing roadblocks. The research also aims to understand how internet enabled phones can be used for improving the lives of people in rural areas.
The study identified various aspects of people’s behaviour towards mobile phones. The motivations behind purchase of mobile phones, usage patterns, need gaps etc were analyzed in detail and reasons behind low adoption of high end phones was determined. Based on this understanding this research document has recommended certain measures to counter the roadblocks and increase adoption of technology for improving the lives of people.


The telecom revolution

The total subscriber base (both wireless and wire line) of telecom sector in India during the financial year 2007-08 crossed 300 million mark with 300.49 million subscriber as on 31st March 2008. During the period, India became the second largest wireless network in the world after China by overtaking USA. Tele-density in the country touched 39.86 as on 30th June 2009 as compared to 2.30 for the same period in 1998 and rural tele-density at the end of March 2008 was 9.20 as compared to 0.40 for the same period in 1998. (TRAIAR 2007-08E)
The subscriber base for mobile phones is jumping by leaps and bounds in the country. The mobile penetration in rural India stood at 17% as of January 2009. Owing to the low cost of acquisition or subscribing, lower tariffs and somewhat lower cost of handsets, this number seems to be steadily rising. Trends have also shown that rural market is growing at a much faster pace than the urban market. Bulk of the consumer in rural who has mobile connection is from the R1 and the R2 category. The lower are still to acquire a connection.

Internet enabled phones

The number of internet enabled mobile phones in the country stands at about 21 million now. A number of studies have suggested that mobile Internet use is growing very fast in India with the country increasing showing up among top 10 globally in generating mobile web traffic. According to data released by mobile web analytics firm Bango, India was among the top three after the UK and the USA in mobile web browsing In February. India accounted for 11.1% of the worldwide mobile web browsing traffic in February.
There is however no data on penetration and usage pattern of internet enabled phones in rural India. It is also not clear whether these phones are being used to their full potential. A mobile phone with internet facility is a powerful tool. If properly used it can be an important agent of social change. We have already witnessed the power of internet in changing the lives of rural population. A mobile phone is a more personal and engaging. Provided with the capability to access internet it would perform the same functions as a PC with internet without the hassles of being bulky and immobile.

Internet as an agent of social change

Internet has proved its worth as an agent of social change. Numerous examples of this are available from all over India. Initiatives like e-choupal has not only helped farmers with getting best prices for their producers but have played an important part in social change. With internet rural population were able to sell their work at best prices both in India and abroad. They have also helped in improving skills of people, healthcare facilities, enhance use of public services, capacity building of local groups etc. All these benefits lead to rural empowerment and strengthening of the rural economy.

Literature Review

Mobile penetration in rural India

In the last five years, we have seen a phenomenal spurt in the growth in tele-density in the country riding on the evolution of wireless technologies and government policies. The total subscribers as on September 2008 is 353.66 million compared to nearly 8 million in Mar 94. However, there is a huge digital divide between Urban and Rural India. Nearly 70% of India’s total population of about 1.15 billion lives in the rural areas. There are more than six lakh villages in the country. As of September 2008, the urban tele-density was 72.47 as against the rural tele-density of only around 12.72. During the last two decades, though several attempts have been made to extend the benefits of the telecom revolution to rural masses but the gap between urban and rural tele-density has widened. (TRAI, 16th December, 2008)
According to the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), India’s urban growth and prosperity is beginning to percolate to the countryside. Mobile-phone companies and consumer durable companies have become aware of the opportunity that exists in the huge rural consumer segment and have extensive marketing programs in place. Cell-phone makers are eyeing the rural markets to push growth beyond the present 7 to 9 million new mobile connections every month. Rural development gets a boost by a reliable infrastructure of enhanced telecommunications. Access to the telecommunication network drives economic growth and provides economic opportunity. Special emphasis needs to be placed on the role of telecommunications in enabling rural citizens to integrate effectively in the Indian economy and then to the new Global Economy. Successful systems require not just appropriate technology but primarily that all other elements like people, policies, processes, incentives, institutions, and infrastructure are present and work well. Special transition policies are required to give a fair chance and to help rural India to adjust to the new marketplace of telecommunications. (TRAI, 16th December, 2008)
There is plenty of evidence to show that telephones have a high correlation with GDP per capita. Broadly we can say that if a country has a one per cent higher mobile phone subscription rate than another, its GDP per capita will be about $200 higher. Surveys and studies have repeatedly shown that access to information and communication technologies allows the benefits of information availability, business opportunities and social connections that translate into brighter education and economic opportunities. (TRAI, 16th December, 2008)
There are three factors that are mandatory to build a scalable and successful business in rural areas. These are:
* Technology- Which is cost effective, affordable, robust, scalable and capable of delivering the relevant applications
* A business model- Which enables each member to earn from the effort
* An organization- Which is focussed on the rural market. (Ashok Jhunjhunwala, 2008)

Choice of mobile phones among rural consumers

A study conducted on consumer behaviour towards mobile phones in rural India has shown that consumer education is an integral part of rural marketing strategy. In the study, most of the respondents had the education level below metric; this might be the reason that the rural respondents were not much influenced by media/advertising. It was also found that they were unable to make use of their own mind and have to depend upon others. So, apart from formal media like newspaper, television, radio, cinema and direct mail, rural-specific promotion methods like demonstrations, puppet shows, house-to-house campaigns, processions, rural melas etc. would be more useful in attracting the attention of rural consumer. While making the choice of mobile phone, rural consumer put more emphasis on the convenience and assistance, price, features and influential person. Though the rural consumers had low income and knowledge, they preferred to step into the shoes of modernity such as new technology, advance features etc. with proper guidance. It must be taken into account that they wanted to make the optimum utilisation of their hard-earned money. While making the choice regarding the service provider, the main factors taken into account were facilities provided effectiveness, dexterity, relative advantage and influential person. The rural consumer perceived that service providers more capable which provide more quality facilities at low price along with rural financing. (Jain, 2007, Vol. 17 Issue 1) (Donner, 2008)


The World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework defines ICTs as all hardware, software, networks, and media for collection, storage, processing, transmission, and presentation of information (including voice, data, text, and images) ICT investments—especially those that build technological infrastructure, enable interpersonal communication, and support products and structures for e-commerce and digital mercantile exchange—can significantly contribute to a country’s digital economy as well as its overall development process. (Kumar, Fall 2008, Vol. 13, No. 1) India is also home to one of the largest set of civil society and govt. Initiatives to use ICT’s to empower and enhance their transformative capabilities and to extend the range of services to the poor at reduced costs. (Ashok Jhunjhunwala, 2008)

ICT initiatives for poverty reduction

Although most of the rural poor in India are isolated from the information revolution, there are several examples in rural India where ICT is used to contribute to poverty reduction in the areas of opportunity, empowerment and security. The following examples highlight ICT applications that are attempting to realize the potential of ICT.
Supporting pro-poor market development: Computerized milk collection centres
Small farmers and artisans living in rural areas typically lack access to information about prices, data on crops, weather conditions, credit facilities, and market opportunities. ICT can remedy such information asymmetries and stimulate poor people’s entrepreneurship by better connecting them to markets. In Gujarat, computerized milk collection centres with integrated electronic weights, electronic fat testing machines and plastic card readers are ensuring fair prices for farmers who sell milk to dairy cooperatives. Traditionally, the fat content in milk was calculated through a cumbersome measurement process hours after the milk was received. Although farmers delivered milk on a daily basis, they were only paid every ten days and had to trust the cooperative society staff’s manual calculations of the quality and quantity of milk. Malfeasance and under-payment to farmers, although difficult to substantiate, were commonly alleged. Computerized milk collection centres have increased transparency, led to faster processing, shorter queues and immediate payment to farmers. Furthermore, the Dairy Information System Kiosk (DISK) software developed by the Centre for Electronic Governance at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (CEG-IIMA) provides relevant information to farmers through a database that contains complete histories of all milk cattle owned by members of the cooperative and a dairy portal connected to the Internet. The 50,000 dairy farmers who use the computerized system benefit from a more transparent and efficient cooperative system
Improving access to government services: Gyandoot
ICT can be used by government agencies to transform relations with citizens and businesses. In India, as in much of the developing world, it is not uncommon for rural villagers to travel long distances to government district headquarters in order to submit applications, meet officials, obtain copies of public records, or seek information regarding prevailing prices in commodity markets. This involves the loss of a day’s income as well as the cost of transportation. Once at the government office, the relevant official, record, or information could be unavailable, forcing repeated visits and additional expenses. In effect, government officials working with paper records enjoy a monopoly over information and records. Villagers may also face discomfort, harassment, and corruption on the part of public officials and are often given incorrect information about government programs and market prices. In fact, compared to middle or upper classes the poor end up paying a disproportionate share of their income on bribes. With ICT, it is possible to locate service centres that provide documents, land records and other public services physically closer to citizens. Such centres may consist of an unattended kiosk in a government agency, or a service kiosk located close to the client. Potential benefits include increased transparency, less corruption, better delivery of government services and greater government responsiveness. Information disclosure and the possibility of interacting with public officials also build pressure for government accountability. The poor become empowered because they feel they are getting a service rather than a favour. Since January 2000, Gyandoot -a government-owned computer network- has been trying to make government more accessible to villagers in the poor and drought-prone Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Gyandoot attempts to reduce the time and money people spend trying to communicate with public officials and to provide immediate, transparent access to local government data and documentation. For minimal fees, Intranet kiosks or tele-kiosks to provide caste, income, and domicile certificates, avoiding villagers the common practice of paying bribes. The tele-kiosks also allow farmers to track crop prices in the region’s wholesale markets enabling them to negotiate better terms. Other services include information on school results and on the names of people included in the below poverty line list, and a public complaint line for reporting broken irrigation pumps, unfair prices, absentee teachers, and other problems. Tele-kiosks are run by local operators along commercial lines and are placed in villages located on major roads or holding weekly markets, so that each of them can serve 25 to 30 villages (Scottb, (2003)) (Gorla, Vol. 15 (2009))
Conceptual framework showing possible ICT-rural poverty linkages
Communication technologies affect poverty reduction in mainly 3 ways: increasing the efficiency of the economy, enabling better delivery of public services, such as health and education, and creating new sources of Income, employment and training for the same, for the poor population. (Ghosh, 2006) In addition, by improving the skill base of rural labour through higher literacy and better healthcare (direct benefit A) ICTs can stimulate the economy to generate employment opportunities. By helping to increase participation and empowerment of excluded groups (direct benefit B) it has the potential to reduce income inequality. Furthermore, its unique feature is its ability to narrow the digital divide that is inherent in its interface with the rural population with low literacy and skills. The conceptual benefits of ICT to poverty reduction and inclusive development, though, are linked to a variety of other factors. These include the integration of ICT in the development policy to achieve the identified target, harnessing the role of ICT as enabler of development, as well as enhancer of capacity building at the individual, community and societal levels. (Tiwari, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2008)

Need for content

Licensing and deploying services and driving mobile growth alone would not be sufficient to guarantee and successful mobile internet market in rural India. Internet content that is suited to the needs of rural India also needs to be developed. Services like MMS, video telephony, custom built financial applications; entertainment needs to be developed for rural India. In order to be valuable to the consumers, the content needs to be accessible and relevant and efforts need to be made to lift language barriers. (Madanmohan Rao, 2005)

Knowledge gap

All studies and reports thus indicate that growth is the fastest at the bottom of the pyramid. We have also seen that the number of internet enabled mobile phones is on the rise. There is however very little data to indicate the growth of this segment in the rural and urban markets. Data is also not available regarding the usage pattern and roadblocks encountered while using an internet enabled mobile phone. There are currently very few initiatives which make use of mobile phones as a means of rural empowerment. Thus a research covering these aspects become important so as to gain better understanding of this segment.

Objectives of research

The objectives of the research are
· Understanding uses of internet enabled phones
Internet enabled phones are on the rise and it would be feasible to assume that there is some amount of value added services on the mobile phone. A study on the various value added services provided by various service providers will be studied as part of the study. This will provide an overall understanding of the services provided by various telecom service providers as well as the various uses of internet enabled mobile phones.
· Understanding the driving force behind purchase of internet enabled phone
While the driving force behind purchase of a mobile phone might be the need for a channel of communication, the same behind purchase of an internet enabled phone could be entirely different. Also this could vary with geography, culture and lifestyle.
· Understanding awareness
An internet enabled phone provides access to services like
§ Web browsing
§ Entertainment
§ Ringtones
§ Wallpaper
§ Any other services that are being used – M commerce, Video telephony, Banking etc.
However the users might not be aware of all these features. Finding out the features that he is aware of and the level of importance he gives to each of these factors is an important part of the study.
· Impact of these services on the lives of the individual
The most important aspect of the study is finding out the changes brought about in the lives of the rural population by the services in such a phone. While it has the ability to transform the lifestyle of rural population, the extent to which it has been successful is an important area of study. The study aims to understand all such changes brought about by these phones.
· Profile of the internet enable phone consumer
By observing the lifestyle and activities of the consumers using internet enabled phones can provide rich insights. A consumer of a standard mobile phone could be entirely different from a consumer using an internet enabled phone. Drawing the profile of such a consumer this becomes essential.
· Usage and attitudes towards the internet enabled phone
An internet enabled phone is a very powerful device. It can be put to a variety of uses. It would be interesting to find how an internet enabled phone is being used by the rural population. The occasions of usage, the frequency and duration of usage all becomes very important in understanding the usage pattern. The attitude of consumers towards these phones also becomes an important area of study. Since this phone can play the role of an entertainer, a facilitator of trade, a teacher and myriad other roles understanding what it stands for, for a consumer would be interesting.
· Acquisition Roadblocks, Usage limitations and issues
While the consumer might be fully aware of the benefits of an internet enabled phone and the part it can play in his life, there might be various factors which prevent him from buying it. These could be availability, price or any other apprehensions. There could also be factors which prevent him from using such a phone to its full potential. Finding out all such factors and issue faced by consumers of internet enabled phones becomes another important objective of this research.
· Future possibilities for Growth
The study also aims to find the future opportunities for growth of internet enabled phones in rural India. Rural India might hold a lot of opportunities in store for cell phone companies, service providers and content providers. These phones could also play the role of an enabler and improve the lives of rural population. This research is aimed at exploring all such avenues of growth and the part various parties can play in it.


The information to be collected is highly qualitative in nature as it involves understanding the attitudes and beliefs pertaining to mobile phones. The aim of the research is to understand the rural Indian consumer, understanding his attitudes and beliefs pertaining to mobile phones. Because of the nature of the information to be derived from the consumer, a purposive sampling methodology is recommended and a purposive representation of the rural in terms of demography. Research should essentially be in qualitative mode. For users of internet enabled phones an observational study of how the phone is being used would also be conducted.

Demographic Parameters

We have seen that data on penetration of internet enabled phones in rural areas of different states is not available. However, based on the SEC classification it would be wise to assume that the most of internet enabled phones would be in the higher population and prosperous villages. Therefore sample should be
* One State – with high density of rural mobile penetration
§ Tamil Nadu ( Rural Tele-density – 17.33 as of Jun 08)
* One Prosperous District & and One Suppressed District selected as per RK Swamy BBDO District Prosperity Index
§ Tiruchirappalli- Market Potential Value: 71.32
§ Pudukkottai- Market potential Value:29.06
* 2 Villages in each District – one in 2-5K pop bracket and 5k+ pop bracket.
§ Tiruchirappalli (Natarajapuram & Valavandankottai)
§ Pudukkottai (Kumaramangalam & Mathur)

Respondent Segment

Based on previous studies and secondary information the respondent segment should be
* Male & Female youth college going – one from each village
* Business or traders – one from each village
* Salaried person – 1 from each village (working as reporters, School teacher, bank employee or others)
This kind of research being highly qualitative in nature would entail a discussion guide based on the objectives in a semi structured probing manner.

Expected contribution

The research aims to conduct an in depth analysis into the usage of internet enabled phones in rural India. Through this research the following contributions to the existing body of knowledge is expected.
1. An understanding of the attitudes of rural consumer towards internet enabled mobile phones.
2. An understanding of the driving force behind purchase of mobile phones
3. Usage patterns of internet enabled mobile phones
4. Roadblocks in acquisition of internet enabled mobile phones
5. Future possibilities of growth.

Fieldwork Location

Tiruchirappalli and Pudukkottai

Tiruchirappalli District

Tiruchirapalli district lies at the heart of Tamil Nadu. The district has an area of 4,404 square kilometers. It is bounded in the northwest by Namakkal District, in the northeast by Perambalur District, in the east by Thanjavur District, in the southeast by Pudukkottai District, in the south by Madurai district, in the southwest by Dindigul District and, in the west by Karur District. Kaveri river flows through the length of the district and is the principal source of irrigation and water supply.
As per the 2001 census, the district has a total population of 2418366. The population density is about 549 persons per Sq. Km. The district has a total cultivated land area of 185985 hectares. Paddy, millet, sugar cane and groundnut are the major crops.
Tamil is the principal language spoken and Tamils are the predominant linguistic group in the district. Considerable amount of Sri Lankan Tamils are found in the pockets of Tiruchirapalli. Hindus formed the majority of the population at 84.39% of the population followed by Christians at 9.02%, Muslims at 6.46% and others at 0.12%.
Tiruchirapalli District consists of 8 Taluks:
* Manapparai
* Srirangam
* Tiruchirapalli
* Lalgudi
* Manachanallur
* Thuraiyur
* Musiri
* Thottiyam
* Thiruverambur
The district is fertile owing to the presence of the Cauvery delta formed by rivers Cauvery and coleeron and irrigating large tracts of land.

Villages Chosen

1. Natarajapuram
Area of village (in hectares) 545.93
Number of households 246
Total population – Persons 1,142
Total population – Males 568
Total population – Females 574
2. Valavandankottai
Area of village (in hectares) 1,349.24
Number of households 1,626
Total population – Persons 6,969
Total population – Males 3,519
Total population – Females 3,450

Pudukkottai District

Pudukkottai District was carved out of Tiruchirappalli and Thanjavur districts in January 1974. The district has an area of 4663 Sq. Km. with a coast line of 39 Kms. The district lies between 78.25′ and 79.15′ of the Eastern Longitude and between 9.50′ and 10.40′ of the Northern Latitude. It is bounded by Tiruchirappalli district in the North and West, Sivaganga district in the South, Bay of Bengal in the East and Thanjavur district in the North East.
Pudukkottai district is divided into two revenue divisions and eleven taluks consisting of 757 revenue villages.
Pudukkottai district consists of 11 taluks.
1 Alangudi
2 Gandarvakottai
3 Kulathur
4 Illuppur
5 Pudukkottai
6 Thirumayam
7 Ponnamaravathi
8 Karambakudi
9 Aranthangi
10 Avudaiyarkoil
11 Manamelkudi
Villages Chosen
1. Kumaramangalam
Area of village (in hectares) 882.31
Number of households 500
Total population – Persons 2,104
Total population – Males 1,083
Total population – Females 1,021
2. Mathur
Area of village (in hectares) 1,516.36
Number of households 877
Total population – Persons 4,887
Total population – Males 2,356
Total population – Females 2,531
Fieldwork- Some images

Everyday life

“My day starts with getting up early in the morning and feeding the cattle. After that I head off to the farm. As a paddy farmer my days are the busiest during the sowing and harvesting season. But I also have to take care of the irrigation, fertilizers etc. I head to the town market every once in a while to buy things for home use or farming needs.”
“My day starts early as I have to go to the early morning market to buy things for my shop. My son accompanies me in my two-wheeler. I have to get back early so that I can open my shop so that I don’t lose any business”
“I have to get up a little early as the bank I work in is a little far away from my village. I have breakfast and my tiffin and leave in the early morning that leaves from the village. My wife takes care of the kids and other household needs. I normally get back as it is about to get dark”
“My day starts with helping my parents in their daily chores. After that I head to my college in the town. I have classes till evening. In the evening I buy things needed for home and then head back. “
The people interviewed were from three different cross sections of the society. There were college going students, farmers, business men and salaried individuals. Almost all of them used a mobile phone. Not only did they use a mobile phone, most of them agreed that the phone had become an integral part of their day-today lives.
Reasons for purchase of first mobile phone
“Now almost everyone has a mobile phone. People buy their first mobile phone when they start earning. No matter how young the person is, if he contributes to the income of the family he would have bought a mobile phone”
“I bought my first mobile phone about 5 years back. Our village had very few phone connections and when I talked to people who already had a mobile phone, I found the rates to be almost similar to a fixed phone. Though I had asked around as to which model should be purchased, at the end of the day it was the cheapest model available in the shop in the town that I purchased.”
“My parents gave me the phone that I am currently using. We don’t have a fixed phone connection at home. This is the only phone in our household. My father is a farmer and he was using it until I started attending the ITI in the town. He bought it mainly for keeping in touch with people and in case of emergencies”
“I bought this phone about 4 years back when a mobile tower was built in our village. There was an STD booth near my shop from where I used to make most of the calls. However, given my line of business I felt a mobile phone would be of great help. I can call up the wholesalers in town when I need something and thy send the items in the bus that comes to the village.”
“I have had a fixed line telephone in my house for a long time. Ours was one of the few houses in the village to have a telephone. I bought a mobile phone about 5 years back because it offers great mobility. I had a budget in my mind and I bought the best model that was available in that range.”
The major motivation behind purchase of a mobile phone was the need for keeping in touch with people as wire line phones were difficult to obtain. This combined with the need for the mobility it offered and comparable tariffs led most people to purchase a mobile phone. The purchase of the mobile phones was entirely need based. Most youngsters purchased their first mobile phone when they started earning. The people who were earning prior to the telecom revolution bought their first mobile phones as it was easily available compared to fixed line phones. For these people keeping in touch with stakeholders in their line of work and being accessible at all points of time were the main motivational factors behind purchase of a mobile phone. In rural India people started treating a man with respect when he started earning. This actually corresponded to the purchase of a mobile phone. Hence the purchase of a mobile phone can be associated with becoming a man.
Features used in the phone
“The only feature that I use in the phone is that of making and receiving calls. I am not comfortable with SMS. Since I have a watch which I wear most of the time, I don’t look at my mobile for knowing time like most people do.”
“My mobile phone serves many purposes. It is a telephone, alarm clock and a pocket radio combined into one. I use the SMS feature though not often. The alarm feature is very useful as it helps me get up early in the morning to study. I also listen to the local fm channels using the radio feature while travelling to my college.”
“Apart from the basic uses my phone serves as a torch. Sometimes

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