New Delhi: For Shubhendra Agarwal, chief executive of telemarketing firm Walkover Web Solutions Pvt. Ltd, the recent ban on sending unsolicited bulk text messages to mobile phone users has provided an opportunity to bump up revenues.
Agarwal claims that revenue and profit at his three-year-old firm, which operates msg91.com, has risen 50% after the new rules became effective on 27 September.
Telemarketing firms are finding innovating ways to reach consumers after India’s telecommunications regulator put the brakes on bulk messaging.
Walkover’s modus operandi is simple. It buys short-messaging capacity from international wireless operators and sends promotional SMSes to mobile phone subscribers through overseas computer servers.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) restricted the sending of SMSes to 100 messages a day to crimp the widespread use of unsolicited bulk messaging to cellphone users. It lifted that number to 200 last week. The watchdog has stipulated tiered penalties of as much as Rs 2.5 lakh for violators.
“Trai does not understand that a company has to earn a living, and by making it difficult, with such strict rules, the companies will only resort to desperate measures to ensure a livelihood,” said Agarwal. Beyond pointing to a rise in earnings, he declined to share further details.
Communications minister Kapil Sibal last month said the government could do nothing about messages coming in from overseas.
“The people sitting there (Trai) haven't even done any kind of study or anything. They just made the rules without even thinking of what they were doing,” said Agarwal. “We are an aggregator. We buy capacity from operators who have close connections with international telecom operators in countries like Russia and in the Middle East. These messages come in through various international routes and cannot be stopped. They don’t fall under the jurisdiction of Trai or the Indian government, and so don’t have to adhere to the rules.”
Walkover charges 25 paise a message for up to 25,000 messages to subscribers registered with the do-not-call registry and 9 paise to other users. Of the 860 million mobile phone connections in India, about 160 million are listed with the registry.
“Before the new rules came into place, the market was flooded with SMS capacity and some people were selling at around 1 paise an SMS. This left us with very little margin,” said Agarwal. “Now we can charge as much as 25 paise.”
Walkover does not use any technology to filter numbers registered with the do-not-call registry. Clients can log into Walkover’s website and upload a list of mobile phone numbers. The message is then sent to these numbers through the Internet and enters the country’s mobile networks.
Trai is aware of websites such as msg91 and is considering lodging complaints against them with the police, a Trai official said, requesting anonymity.
Trai chairman R.S. Sarma on 4 November said the regulator has issued notices to 1,122 individuals, terminated mobile connections of 111 subscribers, and imposed penalties in 17 cases for violation of guidelines. None of these are aggregators or senders of bulk messages such as msg91.