VAS Asia 2009: Many challenges ahead for service providers

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | July 13, 2009
At the conference, industry professionals talked about how value added services are evolving in India, and the path ahead

The 5th VAS Asia 2009, organised by Bharat Exhibitions and presented by OnMobile, saw participation from all stakeholders in the telecom industry. The conference was aimed at exploring and analysing the role of VAS (value added services) in the ecosystem, and figuring out where it is heading. Some of the speakers are the conference, which had four sessions, were RN Prabhakar, member, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI); Arvind Rao, chairman, chief executive officer and co-founder, OnMobile, SS Sirohi, deputy director general, VAS, BSNL, and various representatives from Aircel, Idea Cellular and VAS companies.

In his keynote address, Rao of OnMobile shared some data about the industry. Of the Rs 7,200-crore VAS industry, P2P (peer-to-peer) SMS contributes 38 per cent, roaming and data access contributes 5 per cent while the other VAS segments contribute the remaining 57 per cent. In these, P2A (short codes) constitutes 10 per cent, alerts 8 per cent, IVR or voice portals 20 per cent, ring back tones 45 per cent, WAP portals 9 per cent and miscellaneous services 8 per cent.

& #BANNER1 & #Rao emphasised that as 60 per cent of telecom users are rural, that is a key area to focus on. He added that a challenge VAS providers face is that there are too many services and very little awareness about them among customers. He pointed out that there is a need for more 'sachet pricing' which can be affordable to most users.

There was talk about the importance of educating the customer about the services available. Rahul Saighal, chief marketing officer at Aircel, said, "VAS needs to be democratised." He gave the example of Aircel's Pocket Internet cards which let people surf on the mobile for small amounts.

Uday Sodhi, chief executive officer, new media at Balaji Telefilms, spoke about the studio's plan to enter the mobile entertainment business, which is expected to be worth $13 billion worldwide by 2010. Sodhi said that Balaji is planning to introduce mobisodes and 'mobisoaps' soon. Sodhi told afaqs! that this content will be exclusively produced for mobile and will be different from TV productions of Balaji.

Milind Pathak, co-chief executive officer and country manager of Buongiorno India, pointed out that "Ringtones have been beaten to death!" He talked about the emerging mobile services such as social networking and ad-funded content. However, he added there was also scope for premium subscriptions. Talking of new services, Pathak gave the example of mCampus, a mobile social network by Airtel.

Speaking about the future of VAS in India, Srinivas Vemuri, general manager, network services, mobility, Bharti Airtel, said, "Customers are thoroughly dissatisfied. We have messed up the billing process, and customers are unable to browse for services conveniently."

Other speakers shared the idea of having a single platform where all services available with an operator can be listed. Vemuri also emphasised the importance of localising content for rural customers and offering them infotainment services.

Rajat Mukarji, chief corporate affairs officer at Idea Cellular, said that with mobile number portability (MNP) coming in, VAS companies will have the challenge of seamlessly providing the same services to customers when they migrate from one operator to the next.

Suren Pinto, chief executive officer of WaveNet, a mobile solutions company, made an interesting forecast, "VAS will have to compete with online services, which is going to be a challenge." He spoke about how Internet companies like Google and Amazon are increasingly offering their services on mobile.