Mumbai: Reliance Communications Ltd, India’s second largest mobile telephony company, is scouting for value-added services to tap rural subscribers.

The company, which plans to extend its network coverage to 600,000 villages by March 2008, is launching a nationwide contest for rural mobile applications in mid-October at corporate and university levels. The award-winning applications will be deployed on its Reliance Mobile World platform, with a revenue share agreement with the developers.

“The rural customer is not very different from urban users when it comes to entertainment content, but certain applications become more relevant in the rural context," says Mahesh Prasad, president of content, applications and solutions group, Reliance Communications.

The company has so far been working on such applications in-house, but hopes to increase the number of such applications substantially with partnerships with the contest winners.

Relevance search: Mahesh Prasad of Reliance Communications

The company recently entered the mobile money transfer space, partnering with ICICI Bank Ltd to enable account-to-account money transfers. “We are in talks with banks for enabling inter-bank transfers, and also from India to abroad and vice versa," says Prasad.

The telco is also looking at adapting applications developed in the metros for rural areas. For example, it partnered with the city bus transportation services in Bangalore and Mumbai to provide users information about bus timetables and route guides. It aims to add a real time component to this service—SMS alerts if a bus is late, for example—to launch location-based services in villages.

Six applications won the contest last year—the theme was mobile applications and games—of which three were from companies and three from universities. Winners included a Hanuman Chalisa (a devotional chant in praise of Hindu god Hanuman) application by Indore-based Astute Systems Technology Pvt. Ltd and a Hindi language tutorial by Thiruvananthapuram-based Tinfo Mobile Pvt. Ltd. This year’s contest will close in January 2008. Developers of the winning applications also get a cash prize. Reliance is yet to announce the prize amount.