Making Mobile the Universal Language

Learning from NTT DoCoMo’s Investment in India


Koji Ono

In 2008, NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest telecommunications company, made a $2.7 billion investment in Tata Teleservices, one of India’s leading telecom providers. To date, DoCoMo has invested $3.6 billion in Tata, the biggest investment of a Japanese company in India. Tata Teleservices’ Chief Strategy Officer, Koji Ono, was attending the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. While speaking at IESE about his role as Chief Strategy Officer of Tata Communications, he shared insights on how DoCoMo and Tata are managing the partnership of two Asian giants and the road ahead for successful investment in emerging mobile world markets.

He emphasized how regulations and licensing in mobile communication markets vary from country to country, making it imperative to have a clear understanding of the rules to operate in each. "We need to analyze the license, the government, and regulations. And that is difficult in a foreign country," he explained. From there, steps can be taken to decide on the investment focus.

Yes and Thank You

Ono has an extensive background in global leadership, having spent ten years working in North America, five years in Europe and six in South West Asia. "Mergers are messy," said Mr. Ono, "When two countries have completely different cultures, an additional and very significant variable can stand in the way of effective communication."

Although the merger between DoCoMo and Tata was smooth, cross-cultural misunderstandings are unavoidable. "Indian people and Japanese are not good at revealing themselves. I’m Japanese and I live in India and I love both countries but understanding is really difficult," Ono explained. As an example, in India, saying "yes" to a request is a sign of your good intention. In Japan, it is never given quickly as it implies an unfaltering commitment. When a Japanese person hears "yes," they say "thank you" and then wait for something to happen. "I had a hundred meetings last year with everyone saying ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ and then, nothing happening."

In order to avoid miscommunication, one must be aware of these cultural differences. But beyond that, Ono believes it is necessary to create a new set of rules. "To bring something from another place doesn’t work. Nothing can be created without change." Rather than import a Japanese-based marketing style to another culture, DoCoMo brought their technology to India.

Ono insisted that his sales managers justified their knowledge of the Indian market not through intuition but numbers. "Create a hypothesis and prove it," he told his sales force.

The Indian Experience

In India, with a population of 1.23 billion people, the potential for growth is substantial and developments are taking shape in the field of education and the growth of IT.

In particular, Ono sees much room for mobile expansion. While less than 10% of Asian countries use landline phones, in India, it’s still over 30%. And data in particular represents an important area of opportunity: Currently, 80% of mobile phone customers use their phones principally for voice, rather than data.

Yet, like many developing nations, India’s infrastructure is still fragile; in some areas of the country access to basic utilities such as electricity and running water are still unreliable. In addition, there are many other important areas of concern such as regulations and the creation of content inside of India and developing nations around the world.