This is the age of data and operators have had to swallow the bitter pill. The influx of apps and internet services have slashed the revenues of telecom operators. Reducing data costs isn’t a long term solution because of the infrastructure costs that operators have to bear. So the apt solution is to turn into a gateway of internet services or be a marketplace of internet services with you pressing the control button. Airtel has done the same with its launch of oneTouchInternet.
Airtel, the largest cellular service provider in India and the second largest Asia-Pacific mobile operator by subscriber base has recently launched the oneTouchInternet WAP portal for prepaid customers who are first-time Internet services users. The company believes that the “oneTouchInternet is a first of its kind initiative aimed at simplifying Internet services for millions of first-time users in India.”
The firm says the oneTouchInternet WAP portal will act as a single destination for users to ‘see-try-buy’ popular Internet services including social networking, videos, online shopping and travel bookings, with free tutorial videos and trial packs to guide them through the process.
Airtel’s website oneTouchInternet is running free trials for its pre-paid customers. Enter your number, after authentication you will be able to browse certain features for free and get a chance to enjoy the beauty of internet. According to Airtel, “All trials except the YouTube trial (for the next 20 minutes) expire at midnight. If the trial expires or the free data limit gets completed, the charging will be as per the base pack/rack rate of the user. You can check your balance on the my account page of OTI.”
Lighthouse Insights tried out the offering which had services of Facebook, Twitter, exclusive offers, e-shopping from Flipkart and Snapdeal, travel, news, photo, sports, among other services. TV and Movies will soon be added to the offering which is going to be available in 8 other Indian languages along with English. The app was smart enough to offer me Marathi as a language choice considering my Airtel number is registered in Maharashtra.
To avail the service Airtel prepaid customers can try the new ‘One Touch Internet’ WAP portal via mobile by either calling 111 or visiting Airtel’s One Touch Internet site via their phone’s browser.
oneTouchInternet isn’t completely free
Even if a prepaid user has 5 free trials in a day, oneTouchInternet isn’t completely free. It is like an entry ticket to the internet but to enjoy the beauty of the service you will have to pay. If you don’t have an Airtel data pack and using the free service, any link-outs/third party apps that you go to will be charged as per browsing rates. These are not free even if you have a Facebook trial active.
Besides all the syncing or background downloading that your phone does is also chargeable.
Everything isn’t bad after all at oneTouchInternet, Airtel is offering user free Facebook for a day, in return for watching an ad. With this offer Airtel can increase its video views and users can do basic operations on Facebook; considering 80 million monthly mobile active users, this isn’t a bad deal!
Making the service available in regional languages is already a scoring point for Airtel, a point that had a strong presence in Mark Zuckerberg’s speech when he was in India. According to Facebook 60 percent of Indians are not online due the lack of services and content in spoken languages.
Facebook’s Internet.org a threat
Airtel might boast that oneTouchInternet is a one-of-its-kind service in India but it has copied Facebook’s ambitious project Internet.org.
Facebook in association with six mobile operators (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera Software, and Qualcomm) had started the Internet.org project last year keeping the focus on emerging markets. Facebook had realized pretty early that the future is mobile driven and its next billion users will come from emerging markets like India where internet penetration has been a challenge due to various reasons.
To overcome this problem and jump the red tape of government bureaucracy, Facebook launched project Internet.org that promises to bring internet to two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it via drones, satellites, lasers and more.
In alliance with Airtel, the Internet.org app was launched in Zambia that provides its subscribers access to a set of basic Internet services for free. The app provides features such as AccuWeather to Google search, Wikipedia, a job search site as well as a breadth of health information. Facebook’s own app, along with its Messenger service, is also included. The app works on Android phones as well as the simple “feature phones.”
After finding success in Zambia, Facebook is now looking to replicate a similar strategy in a country where less than 10 percent have access to the Internet. Keeping this in mind Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in India recently to create strong relationship with the Modi government and sell Internet.org in the country.
Mark who met Modi and Ravi Shankar Prasad received a positive response from the government to scale Internet.org in India. Was this the final whistle for the top management at Airtel? And all this while it had been giving signals of entering the content business while simultaneously trying to lobby to form a regulatory body for services like messaging apps which have been eating into its business.
However, it is good for users like we have a Google and Bing or Flipkart and Amazon now we have Inernet.org and oneTouchInternet. Hopefully this solves a little of the net neutrality problem.
Not just good for Airtel but also for India’s digital vision
As said earlier data is defining the consumption patterns of today’s netizens, Airtel has got it and hence the offering. This also brings in an ocean of opportunities to Airtel to induce new users to the world of Internet for free initially and later bill them for their data charges, thereby increasing its revenues and gather more users.
At the launch of Wynk - music streaming app, Airtel had made it clear it may also introduce video. E-commerce is other area where it wants to play a larger role. In other words from being a carrier, it has already entered the content market and wishes to control it. While it is another debate if it is good for the market but definitely it is a lucrative move from the company.
This also means that an offering like this is going to boost Modi’s vision of Digital India. While Airtel’s oneTouchInternet is a business decision, at the same time it gives an opportunity to the masses to enjoy the endless benefits of Internet. India is already the fastest growing smartphone country in Asia and bringing them to the door steps with such offers isn’t a bad move in the long run.
While the business relationship between vendors and Airtel is not yet known, as pointed by Medianama and whether it will launch a messaging app in the free service, it would be interesting to see how other operators are taking this move. Will there be a few more clones or will they join hands with Internet.org or will they keep fighting to provide discounted data rates? The coming future holds the answer.
What we know for now is that Airtel’s oneTouchIntenet has an upper hand in India and it wouldn’t be surprising if it takes this initiative to other 20 countries where it has a presence. Facebook is already taking its Internet.org to Kenya - third country after Zambia and Tanzania.