Operators have swallowed the bitter pill in this age of data. With India slowly shaping into a mobile economy, there is an entire new section of users who are using the internet for the first time via mobile. The growth of messaging apps and social networking sites have resulted into the shift of voice to data, badly hitting the revenues of operators. Left with no choice, operators are moulding according to the times.
Reliance Communications (RCom), India’s second largest telecom operator with over 150 million subscribers has partnered with Facebook to bring Internet.org to India. According to the company release, Reliance customers in six Indian states (Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Telangana) will now have access to more than three dozen services ranging from news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information.
The company states that Reliance customers in India can access these services in the Internet.org Android app, from the start screen of the Opera Mini mobile web browser, and using the Android app UC Browser for Internet.org. One can also call 1800 300 25353 which is a toll free number, to get Internet.org activated.
“Over the last year we’ve rolled out Internet.org free basic services to countries with more than 150 million people total across Africa and Latin America. More than 6 million people are already connected to the internet who previously weren’t, and we’ve started hearing incredible stories about how the internet is changing lives and communities,” Mark Zuckerberg shared on Facebook.
Internet.org - ambitious project of Mark Zuckerberg
Internet.org is the most ambitious project of Mark Zuckerberg to bring the internet to two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it via drones, satellites, lasers and more. Launched in Zambia in association with Airtel the app provides its subscribers access to a set of basic Internet services for free.
The app is free and Facebook and Internet.org don’t pay at all. Instead, the free access acts as an on-ramp to Airtel’s data plans. If users click-through to links outside of the services or use other apps, Internet.org will show users a roadblock screen that warns them they’ll be expending their data plan or need to buy one. The same works for Airtel as it can earn money for data plans by creating interest.
Internet.org is now active in countries like Kenya, Colombia and Ghana.
India is a big market for Mark, a fact that was quite evident in his two day visit to India last year. Delivering his keynote at the first Internet.org summit he spoke about why internet should also be the basic right in this era and how India’s more than a billion population which is still not on the internet can benefit from it.
Mark had shared that according to their research, “69% of Indians who have never accessed Internet don’t have enough reasons why they should use it and what benefit can the Internet provide them.” The only way one can motivate this section is when you show them the value Internet can provide as mobile is already doing by connecting people.
Mark also highlighted a known but missed out fact that most Indian users don’t access internet due to the lack of relevant local language content. According to Facebook, 60 percent of Indians are not online due to the lack of services and content in spoken languages.
To fill this gap, Mark had unveiled a $1 million fund to encourage developers to develop applications in local content for emerging economies.
With the RCom alliance Facebook is not only bringing internet to the feature phones and smartphones but also in their own language. A joint study by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International stated that regional language content availability can boost the growth of Internet in India by 24 percent. The study identified local language as the single largest driver of internet growth in rural areas.
Competing with Airtel’s oneTouchInternet
Within a month’s time after Mark met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and shared his vision behind Internet.org, Airtel,the largest cellular service provider in India launched oneTouchInternet WAP portal for prepaid customers who are the first-time Internet service users.
The firm had said 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.
However, 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.
Airtel has also made the service available in regional languages, making it reachable to the maximum number of users in India.
Both Airtel and RCom are trying to address the same problem in their own ways. Airtel after having an alliance in other countries with Facebook is trying to roll the dice on its own but RCom is leveraging the already built-in technology by Facebook.
However, Airtel with the largest user base in the country does have an upper hand; besides it can also push its own content based services that have been launched or in the process. RCom isn’t at the wrong side either with Facebook’s support. At a time when Modi has a vision of Digital India, these offerings from operators are encouraging, considering the depressing state of broadband in the country and more than a billion people not having access to the Internet.
Image credit: Facebook