Mumbai: Bhavin Turakhia, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Internet domain registrar Directi, has introduced an international voice calling app, Ringo, in India.
The app was developed by Riva FZC, a communications company also founded by Turakhia in 2013. Launched globally in May 2014 in 16 countries, Ringo can now be downloaded in India, too, from Android, Windows and iOS app stores.
Ringo routes calls through telecom operators, and not through the Internet, and hence offers better voice quality calls to mobiles and landlines, said Turakia in an interview on Tuesday. “Plus, Ringo is a pay-as-you-go app and thus has no monthly fee. We pay a commission to carriers for each call routed through Ringo," he added.
Ringo users need to create an account with an amount ranging between ₹ 25 and ₹ 250, which they can use to make international calls. Ringo syncs all phone contacts, ensuring that only registered mobile numbers can be contacted, and adds the cost of a per minute call on Ringo against the contact. A flag depicts the country where the contact is located.
Ringo, according to Turakhia, uses a “unique call flow to convert international calls into local calls". When a Ringo user from India contacts someone in the UK, Ringo automatically dials out a local call to the Indian user and another local call to the UK user and connects the two.
After the call is over, the duration and cost flash on screen. Ringo also provides a facility for itemized billing to easily track credit usage. For topping up credit, Ringo users can use debit cards, credit cards or net banking facility in India, with banks that Ringo has partnered with.
Turakhia said he is funding Ringo through income from his other products of Directi, and “the combined net worth of all his ventures is close to ₹ 50 crore".
He acknowledges that Ringo is a low-margin business, but believes that in a country of India’s size, even capturing 10% market share will result in a good enough return on investment. Besides, India remains primarily a voice market, hence Turakhia claims the rising use of data networks will not pose immediate competition to Ringo.
Ringo, nevertheless, faces competition from telcos that also offer special rate packs and international calling cards with rates comparable to what Ringo offers. Moreover, users make free calls over the Internet on Skype, Viber, Line and Nimbuzz (in which UK-based internet service provider New Call Telecom has a 70% stake). Others like Hike, the instant messaging company founded by Kavin Bharti Mittal, have begun offering free voice calls over the Internet.
The world’s largest social networking site, Facebook, which acquired instant messaging app WhatsApp on 19 February 2014 for $19 billion, also plans to add a voice calling feature to WhatsApp, which will make competition tougher for apps like Ringo.
However, according to Himanshu Chakravarti, chief executive officer of The MobileStore Ltd, “Despite significant VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) adoption in India, active usage of these services hasn’t really caught up in a big way in India. This is largely to do with ease of use, which is a major customer concern."
Chakaravrti believes that if the adoption of apps like Ringo increases, it would put more pressure on current telecom operators, “which may either lead to a tariff rationalization or it may lead to moving further away from Net neutrality—something that carriers and over-the-top firms are already at loggerheads with each other about".
Net neutrality is a concept which advocates that governments and Internet service providers should treat all Internet data equally, and not discriminate by way of content or speed among other things.