Telecom companies like Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices, MTS, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular are rolling out cheap data plans and freebies, hoping to add more new customers this festival season.
Anil Ambani-headed RCom is offering double data limit on some 3G recharges, unlimited use of Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter, free talk-time equivalent of a 2G data recharge, and double talk-time on some voice recharges.
Sistema Shyam, which operates under the MTS brand, and Tata Teleservices are offering a discount on dongles if customers opt for a post-paid plan.
Vodafone India, which is trying to make a mark in the Karnataka circle, is offering a free dongle (data card) with a two-month subscription on a post-paid data plan with a Rs 650 monthly rental.
Idea Cellular is offering 16GB data and a subscription of Idea TV free for four months to customers who pick a smartphone from the over 20 handsets the company is selling.
"Conversation with consumers has been flipped over and now voice is the add-on service, not data, as was the position last year," said Kamlesh Bhatia, Research Director, Gartner.
Analysts say that making data central to the plans compels consumers to use it as it is the primary service for which the plan has been purchased. These offers are part of telecom operators’ strategy to increase the contribution from data to their overall revenue. Compared with voice, data is a higher revenue margin business and is expected to lead telecom operators’ growth through 3G and 4G.
Among telcos, it is the smaller operators who are more aggressive with discounts, as they aim capture new consumers and make a shift in consumer profile compared with incumbents.
"If you see, in voice generally there is no decrease in price, but they (operators) are still willing to do the price war on data. Top players are not willing to give so much discount," said Romal Shetty, national head of telecom at KPMG India.
Bundling offers is a way to increase loyalty of customers the world over. However in India, after CDMA operators burnt their fingers on it in the 2003-2005 period, the concept never really picked up.
Social networking is not as well penetrated, or the immediate need for it perceived. Bhatia of Gartner said instant messaging is the tool that will net in more users.
"Even SMBs (small and medium businesses) are starting to use it as a collaborative tool. There is social networking, but instant messaging is the app of the future."
Shetty observed that even though the festive season tends to attract highest revenue for operators, the actual voice calling is not as significantly impacted. It is the higher proportion of SMS and other services that drives consumption.
This year, with the furore around online retail offers, even that will be a driver for data consumption during the season, he added. Online retailer Flipkart said it sold Rs 600 crore of products in Monday’s flash sale, and that mobile devices accounted for a sizeable portion of sales.