The Managing Director & CEO, Vodafone India said that the company wanted to be a catalyst in the digitalisation of India and the group’s international experience and large domestic businesses ensured they had the expertise to take the country to the next level.
“Did you know that 47 percent of the country still uses mobile phones that are either 2G-compliant or with no data capabilities? India is made of many parts and we as a company believe in catering to all of them,” said Sunil Sood, Managing Director & CEO, Vodafone India, during a fireside chat with YourStory CEO and Founder Shradha Sharma on Day 1 of TechSparks 2017. Explaining how his company was ‘powering ideas & innovation in the brave, new digital world’, Sood said that fostering innovation was a two-way street. “It comes from hanging around people like those who are here today. We learn from them and they learn from us.” He added that while Vodafone has the knowledge and experience that startups would want to leverage, a larger company could learn to think like a startup and not play it safe all the time.
When Shradha asked him how corporates, SMEs and startups could actually work together to innovate and co-create new products and services, Sood cited Vodafone’s example. He said while startups were all about challenging the status quo and developing emerging technologies, each of these new technologies required a connectivity layer and Vodafone was the one that provides that layer. “Vodafone is one of the largest IoT (Internet of Things) players in the world. We own a large IoT company called Cobra Automotive Technologies (based in Italy) and want to bring some of that expertise to India as well and work with startups here. We are already working with auto companies such as Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen in Europe.”
A whole new mobile world
Addressing the issue of the ‘next India mobile story’ and what was in store, Sood said that while the first wave of telecom was all about reaching out there and connecting people with ‘voice’, the next wave or revolution was going to be data, and the ball was already rolling on that one. “I think what we have achieved with voice services is fantastic.
We have one billion people connected and have a presence in every village. Data is growing at 30-40 percent per month and therein lies one of our biggest challenges. We already sell more data in India than the rest of the Vodafone Group,” he said. He added that Vodafone wanted to be a catalyst in the digitalisation of India and that the group’s international experience and large domestic businesses ensured the expertise that would take the country to the next level.
Speaking about how India’s youth power could be tapped to make Digital India a reality, he said, “For youngsters here, it’s all about ideas, knowledge, education and how we can monetise it. The advantage of Startup India is that the government is ensuring that there is a formal mechanism to make this happen. We, at Vodafone, would like to partner with such people to both learn from them and give back to them. Ultimately, it’s all about reducing waste, increasing efficiency and helping them remove the faff, and get to the core of the issue they are trying to address. They can use our products and services to prove themselves in the marketplace.
Of security and the competition
Sood said that dropping the ball on cybersecurity and potential cyber attacks even for a minute meant opening yourself up to a variety of threats. “You can’t stop thinking about it, because the day you do, something will happen. The advantage is that we perform internal mock attacks on our systems and are trained to be vigilant. Therefore, when the attacks took place in India, we were not affected. Being a global MNC has helped keep our security at a top-notch level. We bring global practices here and that is what helps us. But you can’t be complacent. There is always another guy out there who will have a better idea and that is why you need to innovate all the time,” he said.
He dismissed the threat posed by Reliance Jio. “There is nothing new in the product or the technology. The same 4G we sell all over the world, Reliance sells here. The advantage or disadvantage is that they cater to one kind of person. We cater to Bharat and India and that’s the difference. Let’s understand that people who have high-end phones are the top end of Indian society. And while we may have the image of being a high-end company, 60 percent of our clients are in rural India,” Sood said, citing official census figures.
The startup agenda
Sood also had an exciting announcement for those present at TechSparks. “We are moving the company in another direction, and that is why I am here today. Over the past 5-6 years, we have been evolving from a SIM card company to a solutions company. The largest part of our business that is growing is the B2B are and that is almost 30 percent of our business, and we hope it will become 50 percent in a few years’ time.”
He said that Vodafone aimed to be the partner of choice for Indian startup companies and that Vodafone was launching a series of products to that end. Among the IoT solutions, they were providing was Vodafone’s Global Data Services Platform (GDSP) platform, a first of its kind in India, which supported the management of connected M2M deployments through a centrally hosted, secure self-service platform. “Startups can also use our APIs. They have the ideas and we have the technology. So, how can we come together and monetise?”
Sood also had a big announcement for the startups present. He said that Vodafone was launching a Ready startup kit of IOT cloud and marketing solutions. The kit would give access to the GDSP platform with the required training and the audience could avail it free for six months. He also announced that a separate team at Vodafone had been set up across six cities that would work in the B2B space and exclusively handle incubators and startups
Finally, he mentioned that Vodafone in the middle of a merger with Idea and post that it would become the second-largest individual company in the world with 410 million customers with only China Mobile ahead of them.