Fixed broadband services in India have grown at a steady, but unspectacular, pace since their introduction in 2003. Providers had signed up 11.5 million subscribers at the end of Q1 2011, up 31 percent from a year earlier. Nevertheless, Indian broadband penetration stands at only 5 percent of households. In contrast, 34 percent of Chinese households have broadband access.
While India’s fixed broadband growth is plodding along, data from TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database reveal that 3G mobile subscribers are growing at a breathtaking pace. The number of customers signed up to third-generation mobile services skyrocketed 400 percent between March 2010 and March 2011, reaching 12.2 million. This growth is particularly impressive in light of the fact that 3G services were only introduced in 2009, and 3G service has only become widely available from multiple providers in recent months. Indeed, growth has accelerated as 3G coverage and competition has increased, with subscribers increasing by an astonishing 73 percent in the first quarter of 2011.
“3G mobile is helping to break India’s persistent broadband bottleneck,” said TeleGeography analyst Richard Faber. Because of India’s low fixed broadband penetration rate, 3G services will likely represent the primary means of broadband access for many Indians for years to come. Consequently, the impact of 3G subscriber growth on content providers, network operators, and Indian society will be particularly far-reaching.
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