Fresh out of the Box

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Many would have scoffed at Delhi's

fifteen-year-old Sarojini Mahajan, before her idea-of using human pulse to

charge a cellphone-was picked up by the Stanford University, this year, earning

her a token amount of $1,000 for developing the prototype. But that is how

simple things become different, just because they are done differently. When

following the routine path for long does not yield great results, some crazy but

out-of-the-box concepts click.


The developed world perceives SAARC as the follower of trends

that it sets. Interestingly, SAARC has been a pioneer of some exemplary changes

that the telecom industry world over has seen. Despite the global financial

crisis, Asian countries including India have been very optimistic. Since most

members of SAARC are developing countries and are set to grow manifolds, there

is a lot of room for these nations to look beyond the tracks laid by others, and

think beyond the obvious.

Industry pundits say innovation holds the key to success for

the SAARC telecom market. Dr Mahesh Uppal, director, Com First says that SAARC

countries are very dynamic. "It is only here, especially in countries like India

and Pakistan, that operators are surviving on slim margins. In a market like

Europe, it is difficult to imagine recharge coupons to be available in

denominations as low as Rs 10," he says.

The year gone by has seen huge amounts of FDI pouring into

the SAARC region. Foreign direct investment in information and broadcasting in

India grew by as much as 170% from Rs 1,290.3 crore in 2007-08, to Rs 3,492.4

crore in 2008-09.


"The foreign players are coming to India not because they

want to teach the Indian companies how to do business, but to get a share in the

telecom pie," says Uppal.

Some players like Grameenphone in Bangladesh and Bharti

Airtel in India were the trendsetters in outsourcing their IT to experts and

focus on their core marketing strength. This helped them build brands.

Wireless broadband is set to bring in a revolution in the

SAARC region. The total Internet penetration in the region is merely 1.8%. Most

SAARC countries are looking forward to 3G for some years to come. With this,

majority of the people in the region will get their first Internet experience on

a mobile device. Innovating to make wireless broadband more accessible to a

larger mass in the region will play a critical role in increasing the Internet



Regulate and Evolve

Chandi Sreshtha, director, Spice Nepal says, "Regulators play a very important
role in the dynamism of the sector. In principle, they have the power to cripple

the industry by formulating and enforcing unnecessary regulations."

"Most regulators in the region are fairly new, hence, and so

lack experience even though they have the essential knowledge. The regulatory

issues and the policies need to be harmonized so that the regulations do not

contradict the policies. Regulators still think that tariffs need to be

regulated and spectrum fees need to be maintained at a very high level. These

should now be replaced by market dynamics and enlightened directives," Sreshtha


Generally, regulators need to behave like guardians of the

sector including the operators. They have to be watchful about the standards of

quality and price, and the parameters need to be fixed taking into consideration

the kind of socio-economic and financial conditions of the country. The use of

Rural Telecom Development Fund or the Universal Service Obligatory (USO) Fund to

develop and strengthen the telecom sector in the respective countries is also



Regulators play a pivotal role in the growth of the industry,

agrees Ilyas Ahmad, chief executive, Telecommunications Authority of Maldives.

"In Maldives we have already done some innovation on pricing for licensing,

which has resulted in a competitive market," he says.

Infrastructure must be made suitable for the local

environment. The availability of power could be taken as an example. "For Nepal,

alternative energy like solar power could be cost-effective and easy to ensure

QoS, as it is available almost all the time. Similarly, other countries should

identify their natural resources and help make the industry greener," he says.


Operator as Innovator

Operators are facing stiff competition in all fields. Mobile is the most

challenging battlefield. ISPs are making headway and getting into voice and

other businesses. Operators need to be more innovative to survive.

Most operators are looking at the possibility of outsourcing

a lot of activities, starting from maintenance to advertising. Tariffs have been

reduced mainly due to the competition.

SAARC members have a long way to go. "We have been looking outward for so long
that we forgot to look within our own region. In the past we had poor

infrastructure and no connectivity. But now the situation has changed and we

have resources as well as the required infrastructure to justify interconnecting

with each other or transiting through one another. The volume of traffic would

now justify interconnecting most countries of the region," says Thinley Dorji,

CEO, Bhutan Telecom.

"Innovation in the mobile world is at two levels: mobile

handset specific applications and operator provided applications, and we must

look at both the aspects," says Atul Chaturvedi, COO, Idea Cellular.


Here are some recently or soon to be adopted innovations that

can prove to be change makers in SAARC.

Customized vernacular language SMS is an application being

built by Center of Excellence in Wireless Technology, India (CEWIT) and has got

government approvals. One feature about this is that it also gives

interoperability. The proposal is to switch to 3GPP standards to enable support

for SMS in twenty-two official Indian languages. This is currently at the

handset level where the keypad customization for all handset manufacturers is

being discussed.

Some handset manufacturers are working on the probability of

developing a virtual assistant in the handset, whereby customers can put in

alarms and reminders on one platform.


Operator Level Innovations:

CallSpark: Currently, one can only search and dial the numbers available in
one's phonebook. With CallSpark, all contacts available on the office directory,

Facebook, Twitter, etc, can be integrated and dialed without remembering the

numbers. CallSpark can also transform traditional voice conversations into

interactive experiences by pulling real-time data from the social and business

cloud. In both business or personal phone calls, CallSpark delivers real-time

content from social networks, location based searching, reviews, and listed

public information before, during, and after the call. For example, one can call

a friend and see his/her latest Facebook status information before the call, or

call a merchant and see his/her location and user reviews.

Innovation in the mobile world is at two levels: mobile

handset specific applications and operator provided applications, and we

must look at both the aspects

Atul Chaturvedi, COO, Idea Cellular

Most regulators in the region are fairly new, hence, lack

experience even though they have the essential knowledge

Chandi Sreshtha, director, Spice Nepal

The volume of traffic would now justify interconnecting most

countries of the region

Thinley Dorji, CEO, Bhutan Telecom

Mobile Wallet: It's a one-stop solution to all needs. One can

make all kinds of payments through mobile money transfer. Security is one issue

being dealt with these days. Once that is cracked, mobile banking with real-time

transfers shall also be possible. 'FastTap' is also one such application which

allows subscribers to pay for commercial transactions, parking and toll fees

using Visa payWave by waving their enabled phones in front of a contact-less

reader. Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka are some of the quick adopters of

mobile payments in the region.

IR Remote: This is an application where one can feed in data

on all electronic gadgets on mobiles and also operate each one of them through

it. All household devices like TV, AC, microwave, etc, can be operated through


Mobile in Vehicle: This is a telematics service which enables

users to remotely control vehicles using their mobile phones. The main features

include vehicle diagnosis and control, vehicle monitoring and tracking in case

of theft, route guidance based on real-time information from mobile networks,

play music or video on the car radio or TV, directly from mobile phones.

Location based Services: With the advent of 3G in the region,

one big innovation in the pipeline will be location based services. These

services enable a customer to talk directly to the cell site and search for

nearby outlets, etc. Advertising revenues can be big since operators can do cell

site specific advertising, etc. It also enables features like find a friend in

the nearby areas with the help of their smartphones. This service is currently

under test by Google and is coming as an advancement to their existing Google

Maps application.

"A mobile's utility these days is only restrained by

imagination. Everything from being an assistant to telling where exactly you

are, through satellite images, can be done by it," says Chaturvedi.

Some restrictions like English being the only language

available shall also be taken care off once vernacular languages come into play.

It can be a commercial platform where trading can happen with real online data

flowing in.

For a majority of new subscribers that are going to join the

telecom marathon in the region, illiteracy is one major challenge. Voice based

SMS services have made entry in the markets. Spoken Web is currently being

piloted by the IBM India Research Laboratory (IRL) team. It creates a web of

voice sites, instead of typical websites. People need only a telephone, mobile

or landline to create these voice sites or to access them. This will enable the

creation of new content in the voice enabled web portal that will help the

bottom-of-the-pyramid customers to get access to services and products at large.

These are only a few to name, there will be many more

innovative ideas that are still buried and unidentified. It's time to let loose

the imagination, you never know which one might click.

Heena Jhingan