Bangalore: Internet search engine leader Google Inc. expects more mobile subscribers in India to use its SMS or text-based search service for local information, such as on restaurants and movie timings, than in the US, the world’s largest Internet search market where the company began offering the service more than three years ago.
“We built SMS search in the US, (where) people don’t use (it) much, though the trend is growing lately. Obviously the product has seen a significant use (in India) from the word go,” said Dipchand V. Nishar, director (product management) for Google.
Google and rival Yahoo Inc. allow mobile phone users to get information through a short code on local business listings that are indexed on the Net by the search engines. Both firms launched their SMS-based search service in India in October.
India has more than 250 mi-llion cellphone users, majority of whom own low-cost or basic cellphones that can be used only to make voice calls, and send and receive SMSs.
However, with around eight million new subscribers being added every month, India is expected to replace the US in April as the world’s second largest mobile phone market and that is where the company sees the opportunity.
“We really feel the usage and utility for SMS search would come from places like India and China,” said Nishar.
China is the world’s largest mobile phone market with 540.5 million users, followed by the US with 260.5 million wireless subscribers.
Local start-ups such as SM Onyomo Infotech Pvt. Ltd and Suncom Infotech Pvt. Ltd, both based in New Delhi, have built a database of business listings to offer such services to users. But the response has been mixed from mobile phone subscribers.
“If search is specific — you know the shop or restaurant — it works, but users have not had satisfactory results when they do generic search,” said Shailesh Mehta, co-founder and chief executive officer of Onyomo, in short for on your move. He did not disclose either the user base or the financials.
SMS search is priced at premium rates — up to six times an ordinary SMS — and a failed result could deter users to use the service again. Mobile service providers share revenue with the Internet firms on each search query.
“By default, SMS costs and people hesitate to do again if they don’t get the desired results,” said Manish Dalal, senior director (connected life) for Yahoo India.
Dalal said mobile firms are encouraging subscribers to access Internet through their phones to drive data traffic that earn them better margins. However, the companies which provide these services refused to share data on usage. Google’s Nishar says his company does not provide country specific numbers.