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Array of Applications: 3G widens the scope of mobile VAS

May 30, 2014

Over the years, the value-added services (VAS) offered by telecom operators have gone much beyond conventional SMS-based services. The introduction of 3G services in India has added another dimension to the VAS ecosystem. The popular 3G applications encompass verticals such as enterprise, utility and entertainment. Utility VAS includes a wide range of services catering to health care, education, governance and finance, and can play an instrumental role in improving socio-economic conditions in the country. Further, as the majority of 3G users reside in metros and Tier I cities, and a large part of the population using smartphones is in the 20-30-year age group, entertainment-based 3G applications have many takers. Growing usage of such applications is primarily driven by social networking, gaming and online video services.

Currently, 3G service adoption in India is on an upswing and has come about due to a wide variety of 3G applications that are now offered by VAS developers. This gamut of 3G applications, coupled with lower data tariffs and increased smartphone penetration, is driving service uptake. As per Nokia Solutions and Networks’ MBit Index 2013, 3G mobile broadband services grew 146 per cent in 2013 vis-à-vis 2012, surpassing the world average mobile data growth of 100 per cent. The report further states that 3G constituted 43 per cent of the total mobile data usage in 2013, as against 33 per cent in 2012. The major telecom operators are benefiting from this growth trend, as data ARPUs are generally higher than voice ARPUs.

A look at key 3G-based applications available across various segments…

Health care

The role of 3G in mHealth and telemedicine primarily focuses on ensuring faster provision of health care services. It helps connect health workers and doctors with patients via live video-based interactions or through mobile-based applications. For instance, the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation (ATNF), a non-profit organisation that is a part of the Apollo Hospitals Group, is using telemedicine to link rural areas to leading hospitals in India. Before the advent of 3G, mHealth was delivered by ATNF through voice- and SMS-based clinical decisions. But now, with 3G availability, healthcare provided to patients has been enhanced drastically. Through a tie-up with Apollo Hospitals, subscribers can schedule appointments, avail of video-enabled visits over the 3G network and even have prescriptions delivered through SMS.

Although mHealth is currently at a very nascent stage in India, health care service providers see a tremendous opportunity in the use of mobile applications for service delivery. This can help increase the productivity and efficiency of their staff members, and increase their ability to reach patients. For example, teleradiology is an initiative being undertaken on a small scale, which enables physicians to view high resolution X-ray reports on their smartphone screens and instantly send back the reports.

Education

Telecom can facilitate access to education in remote areas, and improve coverage and delivery of these services. mEducation is utilised by most companies that have a focus on corporate learning. Spice, EnableM, Deltics, GCube Solutions and TATA DOCOMO are some of the major players in this area. However, there is still enormous scope for providing mEducation services including language training (text, audio and interactive), mobile reading, adult literacy and vocational training on specific subjects.

TATA DOCOMO’s Tutor on Mobile (TOM) is a key example of mEducation using 3G services.  TOM is designed to connect people with experts through their mobile devices. This application encourages the sharing of knowledge and provides an opportunity for people to earn money by supplying educational content. Since its launch in September 2011, users have accessed over 1.5 million pieces of content in various forms on TOM. The service currently has more than 200,000 active users, who access content through 3G video calling, wireless application protocol, interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS.

Mobile-based 3G services can help provide voice-, video- and data-rich solutions that can help engage children as well as supplement classroom teaching. Recently, Vodafone collaborated with an NGO, Pratham, to provide digital content in 1,000 schools across the country through its “Learning with Vodafone Solution”, which uses software developed by the Vodafone Solutions Team (Innovations Centre) combined with mobile technology. 3G supports this solution in offering rich, graphical and multimedia content, which helps in improving the classroom teaching environment.

Finance

mCommerce services have expanded over the past few years with many mobile banking services becoming available to support a wide range of transactions. Nearly every major telecom operator in the country is now offering its own mobile payment facility. Idea Cellular delivers this service through the MyCash initiative in association with Axis Bank. This service is available in several areas of Uttar Pradesh (East), Bihar, Delhi and Mumbai, allowing users to avail of services such as cash deposits, withdrawals, remittances and utility payments.

Vodafone’s mPesa service has been launched in every circle where the operator currently holds licences. Other popular mCommerce offerings include Aircel’s Mobile Money in collaboration with ICICI Bank, Bharti Airtel’s Airtel Money with Axis Bank and Tata Teleservices Limited’s mRupee, also with ICICI Bank.

Governance

mGovernance involves  delivering effective government services through wireless and mobile technology and applications. Gujarat, Bihar and Kerala are pioneers in the field of mGovernance in India. In 2013, information and technology firm Livares Technologies launched mGovernance services in Kerala through an Android mobile application that offers information about the different departments of the state government. Initiatives like these aim to bridge the gap between the system and citizens. This 3G broadband application is also at a nascent stage, but is expected to be an important tool for the government to reach out to citizens and educate them about the functioning of the state in the coming years.

Entertainment

mEntertainment continues to be the largest contributor to the  mobile VAS revenues of telecom operators. This market comprises caller tunes, subscription-based alerts and SMS-based contests. However, with the growing uptake of 3G, consumers are increasingly demanding personalised, content-rich VAS, which offer more advanced forms of mEntertainment at higher speeds.  At present, Facebook’s Indian mobile user base stands at more than 62 million, while messaging application WhatsApp has more than 40 million active users in the country. A decline in 2G and 3G data tariffs has facilitated the downloading of free applications on mobile phones, making India one of the leading countries in the mobile application market. Application stores such as the Apple Store, Google Play, Nokia, SlideME and Mobango consider the country among their key app markets.

Enterprise

Enterprise mobile VAS utilises mobile-based services for business applications. These services pertain to customer engagement, employee productivity and enterprise mobility. Cloud computing plays an important role in this, as it supports services provided to a wide array of businesses by utilising the virtual environment available through mobiles. Cloud computing includes applications pertaining to communications, content, commerce, etc. For instance, Bharti Airtel partnered with HP Enterprise for its Cloud Enablement Platform. Through it, the company delivers software-as-a-service (SaaS), communications-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service applications, either hosted on operator premises or integrated with third-party SaaS providers.

Outlook

Even though the current 3G application mix is to a large extent, driven by the mEntertainment segment, other applications, including finance and enterprise-based solutions, are catching up. A prominent shift can be noted from the previous basic SMS and IVR-based services to app offerings and other internet-based services with data utilisation. Socio-economic development-based applications of 3G, such as health and education, are still in progress, as 3G penetration in the rural areas of the country is low.

Going forward, the next set of 3G applications will look at the large untapped potential in the areas of governance, health care and education in rural India. Governance will include monitoring the status of state initiatives, health care will be provided via live streaming and education will entail interactive, content-rich teaching practices, all made easily available to the growing rural mobile user base in the country.

 
 

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