India’s largest mobile phone services firm by subscribers, Bharti Airtel Ltd, claims it is developing a new technology that will enable its 50 million customers to use their cellular phones to shop at retail outlets being set up from next year by the company’s parent.
The group’s holding company, Bharti Enterprises Ltd, which runs an insurance business partnering with French insurer AXA Group and a retail venture in partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., plans to “cross-sell” products across these businesses.
“Mobiles will (enable) an information portal in the hands of a customer, using which, they can transact and communicate with other Bharti businesses, including retail,” said Jai Menon, group chief information officer and director innovation at Bharti Airtel.
“Mobile payment would be just one of the features, we are working on many other applications.”
An analyst said once implemented, the mobile customers will be able to shop by merely clicking on their handsets, and selecting the items they wish to buy.
“These handsets could be bluetooth-enabled, and will act as front-end,” said T.R. Madan Mohan, director of the tech practice at consultant Frost&Sullivan. Bluetooth refers to a short-range data protocol that enables communications among electronic devices.
It is easier said than done.
Using phones to make retail purchases, while possible in some countries, hasn’t really taken off in any meaningful way even in developed economies because of a variety of technological, infrastructural and behavioural constraints.
Bharti Airtel has invested some $100 million, or about Rs400 crore, in technology involving hardware systems and software, which will support new services such as mobile commerce and video on-demand, Menon said.
“We are looking to replicate some of the learning in technology at our telecom business,” says Menon, who is credited as the architect of the outsourcing plan that had Bharti Airtel ask vendors such as LM Ericsson AB, International Business Machines Corp. and Oracle Corp. to provide network, database and other tech support as services with billings linked to performance.
The outsourcing model is widely seen as a successful one and is being replicated by other telecom firms.