CEOs: Emerging markets will pave the way

Some mobile phone companies are looking to emerging markets to find early adopters and for a glimpse at services of the future, CEOs said during the opening day keynote of the 3GSM conference in Barcelona on Tuesday.

In Senegal, for example, customers eagerly use a mobile Internet TV service that includes a DVR (digital video recorder) feature. "It's more advanced than in many other places," said Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of operator Orange SA.

The keynote focused on the importance of emerging markets to the future of the mobile industry. That compares with last year's opening keynote, which focused largely on the potential of wireless content services.

Vodafone Group PLC's CEO Arun Sarin pointed to South Africa, where HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) users make up 30 percent of the entire broadband market. That number is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2010, he said. Users in emerging markets are taking up such new technologies as mobile broadband because they don't have quality fixed-line networks, he said.

The lack of quality landline networks may also be driving people in developing markets to exclusively use wireless, he said. In Europe, on average, 35 percent of phone usage is on mobile networks while in developing markets more than 50 percent of minutes are on mobile networks, he said.

Naquib Sawaris, chairman and CEO of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, an operator offering services in Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria and Iraq, put it most succinctly.

"You have two Indians and an Egyptian on this stage: It's our time," he said.

Sarin also commented on Vodafone's recent win of a controlling interest in Indian operator Hutchison Essar Ltd. Mobile phone penetration in India is around 13 percent and Sarin expects that to grow to 40 percent, or 500 million subscribers, in a few years. Indians like to talk too, with an average of 400 minutes of use per subscriber per month, he said. That compares to 150 minutes in Europe.

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