Airtel to capture rural India with VAS

Written by Rachana Khanzode | Mumbai | Updated: May 19 2009, 06:07am hrs
Bharti Airtel, the mobile service provider that has been focusing on the rural markets to add volumes in the subscriber base, will now extend value-added services (VAS) to them. Currently, about 55% of Airtels 100-million customer base is from the rural areas and the company expects this share to reach 65% very shortly, bringing renewed focus on VAS for the rural customers.

Raghunath Mandawa, chief marketing officer (CMO) of Bharti Airtel, said, Currently, about 10% of our revenues come from the VAS. And we see this pie going up with our focus in the rural areas. Music and SMS constitute significant part of Bhartis Rs 3500-crore VAS revenue but it sees a huge opportunity in mobile commerce and data. Besides entertainment and mobile-commerce, we expect the data usage to be high in the rural markets. A large part of the rural network is free and available and so we want to capture this market, he adds.

The company also plans to work on banking solutions and target the 80% unbanked population in India, with options like money transfer, that will include the rural areas.

The company is waiting for necessary approvals from the government on this initiative. Talking on the mobile number portability that is expected to bring renewed focus on the VAS, Mandawa said, VAS is going to be one focus area but we would also want to bring the trust factor by introducing initiatives that can empower our customer base. Our recent self-service options like Start Stop is one of them and these have already had over 100 million hits in a month. We want to introduce similar options in the future.

Airtel will also build service management centres, which will monitor and manage services to ensure that customers are always kept informed proactively. For the rural customers, Airtel has already set up 14,000 Airtel Service Centres and going forward, the company is looking at having over 100,000 such centres across the country by March 2010. In a bid to support the voice and data initiatives the company plans to roll out 1,00,000 base transceiver station (BTS) sites across the country by the end of this year.

The company plans to transform its entire fixed line network to IP/Broadband over a phased manner. This transformation will enable Airtels transformation to next generation networks (NGN), which will enable it to offer advanced services like high-speed internet, triple play, media-rich VAS, MPLS, VPN for both retail and business customers.

The company had recently introduced Krish Labh services that provide commodity prices for Mandis within proximity of 100 kms to the farmers. Last year, it launched the IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd (IKSL) that is set to offer products and services, specifically designed for farmers.