Thursday, 28 June 2012

Falling New Subscriber Additions

No surprises here... new subscriber additions growth rate has started to fall; it has been falling for quite a few months now. What is suprising is the questions being asked : high tariffs, lower margins for retailers, document requirements etc. A simple perusal of the data throws up a completely different scenario, one which I have not found being mentioned anywhere:

  • Overall teledensity of 79% approximately
  • 686 million active subscribers out of 921 total connections
  • Delhi has a teledensity of 237%
  • 65% mobile subscribers are in urban areas
From these 4 points, a few interesting realities emerge:

  • Delhi's teledensity percentage means that there will be some states with a much lower teledensity. It does not take a genius to figure out that these states will be the poorer states, where pushing connections will be far more difficult simply due to lower per capita income and other development factors
  • Urban areas are reaching saturation in terms of fresh connections; a major change in strategy is required in the urban areas, with the focus shifting to Average Revenue realised per user, customer retention, coverage quality, proper retail servicing in terms of recharge availability, maintaining channel hygiene in terms of claim settlement, customer issue resolution... in simple terms, ensuring that you cover any and every reason due to which a customer will change his service provider. By and large, a customer will change only because of poor service, non-availability of recharge, influence of the retailer. The focus has to shift to these factors. Sales numbers are of course important: but there is now an urgent need to assess - or rather, re-assess Key Result Areas across departments to reflect the new realities of the telecom business and realign the teams focus along these lines. 
  • More than 200 million connections are inactive: these will actually reside in the second sim slot - at least a large number of them. 
  • Rural areas are the growth regions: but the approach has to be tempered with some degree of realism in these areas, The pace of growth be be far lesser in these areas; they will require time
It is no surprise that new customer additions are falling, A simple recall of some management basics will suffice; in fact, this fall is only to be expected. As per the customer adoption curve below, as the industry grows in time, the rate of new customers being added come down,  as 50% of the population will already have adopted the technology... refer diagram. Recall this from management classes? The fall in new additions should have been expected, indeed should have been foretold! The numbers above tell the whole story! The entire paradigm of business is changing in the telecom space... 

Book Review: Ice Station Zebra

Alistair Maclean… an author unparalleled in his genre; an author who is unmatched in suspense thrillers; An author who has remained unmatched despite the increase in fiction writers in modern times. We are spoiled for choice nowadays in almost every sphere of writing, from non-fiction to fiction – good quality books at that. Despite this plethora of options, every so often, the mind turns to the famous Alistair Maclean’s books – a connect that has not weakened despite the competition. You just can’t forget the charm of his books, and their everlasting allure. Let us today look at one his classics just to remind ourselves of his brilliance, and to savour a trip down memory lane. My personal favourite among his books is the book “Ice Station Zebra”, a book which amply demonstrates all the qualities that Alistair Maclean was famous for.

The Plot
A meteorological station in the Arctic Circle gets gutted by a crippling fire. The survivors call for help, starting an urgent dash to the Arctic Circle to rescue the hapless survivors from certain death. This seemingly simple task is complicated by the circumstances – primarily the fact that the station is based on an ice floe in the Arctic Circle, and is unapproachable by sea, as it is surrounded by huge ice floes going 100-200 feet in depth. Air approach is also rendered  impossible by low visibility conditions, ice storms and inhospitable terrain. The only hope is a state of the art US submarine that can stay underwater for indefinite periods of time. Just think: the submarine can reach the approximate location of the Ice Station; but how does it surface? All above it are endless ice floes without a single stretch of water. You can’t smash through the ice which is anything upto 200 feet in depth. Furthermore, if you do find an open lead in the ice, how do you locate the precise location of the Weather Station? Ice Floes tend to float on water; so the location where the station was first set up in terms of Latitude and Longitude would have changed, as the ice floe on which it was made will have floated to a new location. The survivors are in no condition to give their position, having no access to equipment. Radio Location techniques  require radio communication from the survivors, who are operating a battery operated radio set with the batteries nearly run down. The situation seems virtually impossible… the book tell the story of how the US team survives all odds to locate the station.
Further complications are in store: a gentleman effects entry into the US Submarine on the strength of a recommendation from both the US and UK governments, with specific orders to the US Naval Team. The Naval Team is given to believe that the Weather Station is in reality a UK advanced military installation with state of the art satellite equipment. This story is admittedly false, a pre-fabrication that is made up by this gentleman on the spur of the moment. Who is this man? How has he got 2 governments to back him so totally as to authorize entry into one of the most secret US Naval Submarines? How has he got these governments to pass an order authorizing him complete charge of the mission? And why are there constant problems, threats and dangers confronting the US submarine on its rescue attempt? Why is the ship seemingly hurtling from one problem to the next?

The Analysis
The book is a class apart as it merges 2 different genres: a rescue attempt against the elements of the weather and the caprices of nature on the one hand, with a spy thriller on the other.  These twin themes are intertwined throughout the book, which make for enthralling reading. The rescue attempt has been chronicled in stunning detail and will keep you glued to the book on its own, without the aid of the spy story that is running concurrent to this theme. So much so, that for the most part the rescue attempt becomes the main theme and the spy story becomes the secondary storyline. This is corrected only in the end of the book when the curtains are drawn, and the plot revealed. The background development is awe-inspiring, with descriptions of the Arctic region, the ice storms, and weather, the underwater period being attended to in breathtaking detail. Such is the power of the prose that you actually visualize the elements in front of your eyes: you can actually see it in your mind. The author has excelled, he has surpassed his own abilities in this book with the power of his description. This is vital as it keeps you glued to the pages while the spy story is kept in abeyance till the finding of the survivors. 
The author’s command over all things sea-faring is well known, as he himself was in the Royal Navy. This is evident in the section of the submarine voyage. This is also evident in descriptions of the sea and diving scenes. But the background development of arctic circle, the weather, the arctic climate will enable a deeper respect  and understanding of what makes Alistair Maclean so famous as well as give the reader a glimpse of what that area must be like. His use of wry humour is places where you least expect also is a beauty of behold, as it relieves the tension, changes the reader’s mood: all this without slackening the relentless pace of the story. All in all, this is one of the best Alistair Maclean books ever: page turning, relentless with breathtaking detail, suspense and tremendous command over the subject. The book is exceedingly well-researched, gives us an insight of one of the most inhospitable regions of earth, tells a superb story that is beautifully intertwined with a classic spy thriller come who-dun-it. I would rate this book 5 stars. In fact, I rate this book as one of the best books in my collection – spanning the entire range of fiction and non-fiction books. It is easily one of the 10 best books I have ever read…  

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Book Review: The Story Of My Assassins

The Book I Couldn't Finish....

I never thought that I would ever had to pen these lines... that I would ever state that I could not finish this book. It is especially sad, since I have been away from my blog for a good bit of time due to a shift to Mumbai - having to pen an unfinished book is indeed sad. But I cannot put it in any other way. Rather than state that the book is bad, let me just say that the book is not for people of my ilk, and leave it at that. I can give an outline of the story, the style of the author and what I did not like about it. Seeing as I didnt like anything in the book, I am not giving what I liked about the book. I didnt find a single thing, to be honest... except for one small section, given below

The Outline
The storyline is fairly simple, and holds a good bit of promise. A gentleman is supposed to be attacked by a gang of 5 other "gentlemen". The book traces the lives of the supposed assassins - how they became criminals, how they were influenced by the society around them, what pulls and pressures operated upon them - what were their "majboori" in other words. It looks at the societal norms, ugliness in stark reality without making any defence of either side. It just states it like it is. These lives are intertwined with the life of the main protagonist, his wife, his mistress, his business partner and his spiritual guru. Stated on its own like that, the story holds tremendous promise - it is a story that can lay bare the entire gamut of life in India as it exists today; which is precisely why I picked it up. 

The Style Of The Author
In one word, disjointed. Not for me. I could not fathom what was going on - I read through some 15-20 pages without having a clue. Went back to page one and re-started all over again in an attempt to fathom what was going on. The first line introduces the attack... then you keep reading, expecting more details - and find none. What you get instead is an unending series of background development, sidelines, profanity and seemingly unrelated stuff. Then, you get an hint of 5 attackers - and silence. Profound silence. The story moves on to the affair, profanity - extreme profanity of the r**** and m*******d kind - a bit too much. Much too much, rubbed me off a huge amount. I can stand the odd f***, or an odd "gaali" - but when you get profanity after mindless profanity, it tends to take away from what could otherwise have been a very powerful narrative. I read for some 70-80 pages... and then, finally, the real story kicks off with the lifestory of a person. It takes you several long minutes before you make the link that this thug is one of the attackers. But once that link kicks in, the story acquires a life, and power. It tends to hit you in the gut with its brutal frankness. In this part, the author has truly excelled. However, once this story ends, you are back to the ring-around-the-mulberry bush, with d-e-t-a-i-l-e-d descriptions of scenes between the guru and the disciple, the protagonist and the mistress and so on and so forth. Suddenly, just as you were about to understand what the !@#$ is going on, you get another yo-yo turn - right into another story of a thug. And at about this part, I just gave up... page 153 or thereabouts. Sorry Guys. This is one book that got the better of me!

My Rating
1 Star. That is it

What I Did Not Like
  • The Profanity - far too much of it. It becomes an irritating narrative with the extent of the bad words used. The effect is to make it sound very rough and second rate
  • The needless background development and pointless detail, making the linkage of the various subplots very tedious. There is so much of background noise, that you frequently lose the plot of the story, and end up wondering how and where does what you are currently reading link up with the main story. Yes, there is some amount of humour, but the meandering style and profanity all but push the humour into extinction
I summation, this is not a book for me. There will, of course, be people who will like it: but I am not one of them. I prefer clean and polished writing- no profanity, with succinct but detailed background development and a to the point narrative. I would love to read a book that dwells on such a story line - how people (gundas) become what they are - but not in this style! If you are of similar tastes- as you can no doubt make out from my other posts- then avoid this one.