Even as the drive to digitise the economy is on, the government is worried that the efforts being made to increase digital inclusion are not bearing expected results as a majority of people, especially in rural areas, still use feature phones. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently met senior officials from various ministries to find ways to make the administration more efficient and responsive. During one of these meetings, it was pointed out that the government should work on developing platforms that allow feature phone users to avail of various government services online, a senior government official said.
“Even though India has a high mobile penetration with close to 1.2 billion subscribers, barely one-fourth have access to high speed data. This is making it difficult to use apps that have been created for various services. For instance, it was suggested that USSD can be used to find a solution for such issues,” the official said.
USSD, or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, is a mobile communication technology used for sending texts between a mobile phone and an application programme, and is extensively used in mobile banking, prepaid roaming and mobile chatting, among others. “USSD is being used for mobile banking successfully and it can work on any phone and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wants ministries to explore solutions where USSD can be used for other service offerings,” he explained.
Government launched the *99# service, which works on USSD with the mission to revolutionalise mobile banking. It has allowed people to send low-value remittances, which are aiding financial inclusion, especially for migrant workers and people in rural India. During FY16, India made 1.75 crore BHIM/UPI/USSD transactions worth around `7,000 crore, while in FY18 (Till January 2018), these transactions shot up to 56.58 crore worth around `67,000 crore.
Another official said many companies use USSD for basic marketing surveys that can be immediately answered by users. It also finds application in the logistics industry. For instance, it is used in delivering food products where a two-way communication is initiated between the customer and the company for placing order and confirmation.
USSD can be used by ministries for delivering various services such as providing information on schemes and policies or taking confirmation for participation in programme like polio eradication or for encouraging parents to send their children to school.