In December 2009, mobile data traffic (surfing the net, checking email, exploring social networks etc.) officially exceeded the volume of voice calls across the world’s wireless networks for the first time.  Global data traffic has nearly tripled in each of the last few years with some 400 million mobile broadband subscribers generating more traffic than 4.6 Billion voice subscribers. Mobile data usage has been primarily fueled through the increased market penetration of smartphones which increased its market share from 11% in 2008 to 17% in 2009, and the rise in social media access via mobile phones. 3G phone ownership increased from 32% to 43% from 2008 to 2009.

As expected, Indian and Chinese consumers are expected to lead growth in this sector, with mobile users in India expected to increase from 600 Million to over 1 Billion by 2014.  Even assuming a modest penetration of 15% for smartphones in the Indian market by 2015, that would mean 150 Million mobile subscribers eagerly consuming data traffic. Worldwide mobile data usage is expected to double each year as better smartphones become available and better networks are built and it should be no different in India.  The fact that more Indian mobile users are likely to embrace mobile as a platform for uses beyond just making phone calls, opens up a great number of venture opportunities. To me, the mobile platform offers the same type of opportunities to businesses that the internet provided in 1990s. It has the potential to spawn new businesses and differentiated business models, open up new channels for web services, online, as well as brick and mortar companies and could provide huge efficiencies and improvements in business operations and employee productivity.

Here are some thoughts. There are opportunities for greenfield mobile product startups that make everyday life easier for people on the go – read iPhone or Android apps. One could also think of a mobile centric product strategy for web services and online internet based businesses leveraging the true potential of the mobile platform (location based services, push technology, availability of mobile storage space etc.). Mobile could be used as a platform for brick and mortar businesses – e.g. online coupons, mobile marketing for retailers and CPG companies, mobile payment platforms etc. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but the key point here is that there is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to create a new ecosystem of businesses using mobile as a platform. The infrastructure (3G) is being built, the market exists and consumers are asking for it.

Would love to hear your thoughts on venture opportunities in the mobile space in India – what ideas will work, what won’t and why? Have a great weekend.