Mumbai: This September, the country’s mobile subscriber base is tipped to touch 200 million. But, while volumes grow, Arpu (average revenue per user per month) is on the decline - down from Rs362 in December 2005 to Rs316 in December 2006, according to industry regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
In a market still largely driven by voice, operators and companies in the mobile value added services (VAS) business are on a quest to find new ways to get the user to spend money on non-voice services.
The advent of 3G (third generation telecom networks that facilitate data services) networks is expected to drive the usage of non-voice services. However, most players say that the roll-out of 3G technology is still sometime away. So, till that happens, players will have to find new ways to deliver such services through the short message service, or SMS , platform.
So far, non-voice SMS services have been largely restricted to ringtone and wallpaper downloads, and to vote for contests on television shows. A few players, among them a bunch of mobile start-ups, are now developing applications that will allow the end user to access utilitarian services on their mobile phones via SMS.
Mint looks at a few key areas of innovation:
You can use the standard SMS to search for restaurants, movie theatres, or other utility services in your city or neighbourhood. And yes, you don’t need to be GPRS-enabled. For instance, Bangalore-based start-up Ziva Software Pvt. Ltd has just launched a search application called ‘Zook’. If you are looking for theatres in Mumbai screening Partner, you can send an SMS to a customized short code, say, “PARTNER MUM”, and you will receive a list of theatres and show timings. The big advantage here is that it allows you to get information on the move, sometimes more localized than online searches yield, and is cheap. Companies are aiming to keep costs down, so you will most likely pay just regular SMS charges in the range of 40 paise to Re1 a message for this.
Apart from Ziva, start-ups such as Delhi-based OnYoMo Infotech Pvt. Ltd and Mumbai-based mKhoj Solutions Pvt. Ltd are also in the space, with slight variations to the business model. Big boys Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and MSN have also tied up with telecom operators for mobile search, but they work on the mobileInternet, i.e., GPRS platform.
The start-ups hope to make money by either using a ad-based revenue model or a pay-per-action model—whereby they will collect a fee from the merchant for every transaction that a user makes.
For this, you have to register on a regular job portal and you will receive an SMS—either from the portal or directly from the employer—informing you of job openings in your areas of interest. This could be just an alert or a specific call for a job interview. Either way, you can reply via SMS to let the company know if you want that job. Online recruitment portals in India are offering employers and candidates this service to cut down on the lead time for both. Gurgaon-based Naukri Internet Services Pvt. Ltd introduced its InstaHIRE SMS-based service last year. Candidates can apply directly by replying to the SMS, and Naukri will forward the resume to the employer. Naukri says close to 200 companies have signed up for it, including Google Inc., IBM Corp. and HCL Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Chennai-based Clickjobs.com recently launched an SMS initiative, where companies can send branded messages. For example, a candidate will receive an SMS directly from say, Infosys, not the portal. Naukri charges Rs2.50 per message. So, a company pays Rs25,000 to send out an SMS alert to 10,000 candidates. For portals, though, the SMS initiative is a value-add. Their mainstream revenue comes from charging companies a subscription fee for their databases.
You can use such applications to pay bills or make purchases. Register as a user, and your bank account will be linked to the mobile payment platform. So when you send an SMS to close a transaction, the amount is either debited from your account, or is added to your credit card bill. It is quick, efficient and does not reveal your credit/debit card details, as is the case on the Internet.
Firms in the space include Mumbai-based Paymate India Pvt. Ltd, ITZCash Card Ltd, and Bangalore-based MChek India Payment Systems Pvt. Ltd. Paymate has tie-ups with 3,000 merchants with whom users can transact, including travel booking site Makemytrip.com, movie multiplex chain Cinemax, and online shopping site Futurebazaar.com. These services are currently available only for Corporation Bank debit card holders. Users pay regular SMS charges. These firms charge merchants a percentage of the transaction amount as fee, which is then split with the bank or the financial institution involved.