The Indian mobile device and applications market has been firing all
cylinders since the last couple of years. Not only have the prices of handsets
crashed, new companies and latest models have forayed onto the retail shelves.
Perhaps the most remarkable launch of a mobile device in 2004 was that of
And in the applications arena, the media companies, especially the news
channels, got the viewers to participate in contests and polls through the short
code SMSs. But the market still waits for multimedia-rich applications that
would transform the way we look at the wireless world.
The applications market
Today most of the mobile applications market is limited to retail customers.
About 11—13 percent of the mobile revenue comes from value-added services
(VAS) or non-voice services. And of this share, almost 80 percent is
peer-to-peer messaging. Rest 20 percent comes from various third-party
enterprise applications. In revenue terms this would be less than Rs 400 crore.
However, both operators and application developers are betting on enterprise
applications and expect it to jump to 30—35 percent of the VAS revenue.
To pull it or to push it?: Mobile applications can be divided into two types:
they would be either pushed to the users or be pulled by them. While SMS-based
applications can be pulled or pushed, MMS are pull oriented. E.g., a video clip
has to be requested for. Operators don't push it to handsets.
In a business-to-consumer type of environment, most applications are pulled
from the enterprise servers and only in the case of broadcast is the information
pushed. E.g., lottery companies in the West Asia push the results to
subscribers. In a business- to-business or business-to-employee environment it
would depend on the company policy whether it wants to push the data on a
regular basis or restrict it, to be pulled when required.
SMS takes the day: The applications market today revolves around SMS-based
applications. Be it ring tones, video clips, or any information, they can all be
accessed and downloaded by sending SMSs. Enterprises, on their part, broadcast
their offerings by pushing SMSs to users who in turn send another SMS to avail
After voice, SMS is the most widely used as primary application and has found
favor with retail and business users. Operators are also happy as it uses less
bandwidth and gives good revenue per message, ranging from Rs 6 to Rs 200.
Developers use SMS as the base for other applications.
A hot SMS application in the market is short code. It is a four-digit number
blocked with all operators. Users SMS to the short code the code of the
application, access train reservation, airline schedules, video clips, pictures,
ringtones, or company data sheets.
codes are sold by the third-party application vendors and can also be had
directly from the operators. But buying them from specific operators requires
the same code being available with all the operators. And buying it from the
operators can lead to major coordination and billing problems. Thus it makes
sense to buy it from a single vendor who offers the code and the platform to
access information. Media houses have successfully implemented the short code to
feed news to subscribers. Similarly, banks and financial institutions use them
to give out stock and transaction reports.
SMS-based IVR: Recently, Bharti Tele-Ventures and Infosys broadcasted their
quarterly results through an IVR-based application. Users could hear the results
on their phone by sending an SMS. This application is particularly beneficial to
call center and banks, where users wants to access a particular information
while on the move. But these applications have to be made more interactive to
reduce the monotony of speaking to a prerecorded voice.
You cannot escape SFA: When the whole world is going for automation and is
adopting wireless, it is a matter of time before Indian enterprises empower
their sales force with data on their mobiles. Imagine the power of a marketing
sales force that can check inventory in the Mumbai office while sitting in
Imphal and simultaneously place order for the delivery, all from a single mobile
device. Sales force automation (SFA) has caught the imagination of
pharmaceutical and FMCG companies. Even paint and automobile companies are
adopting SFA applications in some form.
Though the term SFA focuses on sales and marketing, its applications can arm
all employees with relevant information. This information could be office
e-mail, appointments calendar, or financial data-anything that can be accessed
over office desktops.
MMS for insurance companies: Though still in trial phase, insurance companies
are planning to cut down the claim processing time by empowering evaluators with
MMS-enabled phones, so they may click and send the pictures to the main office
where the claim amount can be calculated and referred to the field guy. While
MMS handsets and applications have been tested, the only issue is that networks
should be ready to support MMS.
Similarly, utility meters readings can be captured as images and used for
calculating the bills. Field tests are also on for mobile tickets, where hard
copies are replaced by bar codes on the handset screens, which can be read by a
bar code reader to complete the transaction. Here, security is a much bigger
issue than network. Enterprises need to feel confident before using it with
GPS for transport industry: Today you can track couriered packages over the
Internet. GPS applications enable couriers and transporters to track their
consignment in real time over a handset.
Vehicle tracking is today the most widely used GPS application and soon
courier companies will be able to tell you, over mobile phones, whether your
packet has reached or is still on its way.
Video streaming on the way: With operators strengthening their network
capacity, 2005 might finally see video streaming happen. Developers have created
software to compress live video feed and fit it to the handset's size. Though
Hutch has been promoting TV program clips for EDGE subscribers, it really needs
to be seen how enterprises adopt live TV. Conferencing seems to be the obvious
application in the B2B and B2E space.
For consumers live news, sports, and films on handsets would be the show
stealers. With 3G around the corner, MMS and video applications also need to be
kept on the radar screens.
What would be the RoI? What about confidentiality of data? These are obvious
questions management would ask a CIO trying to implement mobile applications.
Adopting any mobile application is an expense, with no assurance of direct
returns. E.g., customers may use a bank's short code toll free but the bank
has to pay the application providers and the operators.
Of course, returns are in the shape of better customer focus. If customers
get better service they remains loyal and brings in more business. It becomes a
great tool in acquiring new customers and retaining old ones.
In the B2B space it gives employees flexibility in business execution and
makes the whole process efficient and reduces the turnaround time. Employees
have everything on the mobile and don't have to rush to the office for data or
consultations before closing deals. Such application gives obvious competitive
Overall, workforce and IT infrastructure is optimally utilized, which in the
long run reflects in the company's balance sheet.
Look before you leap
The first step towards creating and adopting a wireless environment is to
identify what all things can be put on the applications and how would the
billing be done. Though 'pay per use' is the best model when the usage is
low but when user base is large, explore one time fee. If an enterprise is going
for short code from different operators, billing becomes an issue.
In case of SMS-based applications, particularly when more data is being
accessed over it, character optimization becomes key on the relatively small
screen of the handsets.
There are two ways of implementing a mobile application. One is through the
mobile operators, who bundles the applications along with voice services and can
also customize the handset screens for the enterprise. Reliance, Airtel, Hutch,
and Idea have e-mail and e-billing offerings for the enterprises. But remember,
the core business for any operator is providing services. They get applications
from a third party, who can also be approached directly.
In either case, the basic platform or the application has to be customized.
CIOs have to choose the best at the optimal cost. An enterprise can also get the
applications developed for itself. However, a network operator it still need a
for the connectivity.
Nowadays, high service level agreements are taken for granted. Even with 99
percent uptime no one buys the services. But adhering to SLAs with more than 99
percent uptime is difficult. As the enterprises depend heavily on the
applications and virtually run their business on them, 24x7 customer and
technical support is a must.
Be sure of the network capacity before adopting multimedia applications.
Here, sticking to one operator across geographies helps in maintaining service
consistency. As the data is critical for business, better to ask for redundancy
and backup on the network in case of a disaster.
Security is another concern area. In B2B and B2E situations, once data leaves
the company server and rides on public network, it is easy to intercept. And
things like handsets getting misplaced or someone else using the handset puts
the company's business at risk. In a B2C scenario, a customer might not like
others snooping around his data. Companies like VeriSign have been supporting
application developers and network operators to give secure environment for
users especially where financial data is being exchanged.
SMS-based Information Exchange
SMS-based Information Exchange
Banking: Alerts to customers on credits/debits, customers request for
bank balance through SMS keywords
Insurance: Alerts to customers on insurance premium and due dates,
Sales and service: Alerts to service engineers on customer calls, e-mail
alerts to the sales managers; request for stock information; material dispatch
details; payment information by employees, partners and customers
Travels and tours: Alerts to corporate members on ticket/hotel booking
confirmations; customers/partners request for information on tariffs for package
Retail shops: Customers request for details on festival offers, discount
sales; alerts to membership customers on prizes, special offers; partners
exchange information on payment receipts, material dispatch details, stock
information etc through SMS from any part of the country
Alerts to membership customers on new movie releases; SMS-based ticket booking;
management request for information on payment collections
Education media and entertainment: SMS-based information access of exam
results, SMS-based viewer's polls and feedback, SMS-based promotions/contests
Application service providers: Information access- and alert-services (news,
astrology, sports, and stock information)
Public services and utilities: Information access and alerts through SMS
(electricity and telephone bills payment reminders, emergency information
alerts, alerts on national highways)
Manufacturing: SMS-based information access by partners/customers on payment
receipts, material dispatch details, spares/stock information etc. from any part
of the country
Hotels: Check hotel room availability through SMS from any part of the
country; send SMS to customers on calls received during their absence
Hospitals: Emergency alerts to doctors and maintenance staff; requests for
doctor availability, OPD timings
Call centers: Alerts on customer call statistics/key performance indicators;
access of workforce information by call center managers
Stock exchanges: Alerts to partners on Sensex updates, payments; SMS-based
stock information access by customers
These are some sample applications that can be achieved for different industry
verticals using SMS-based solutions