Connectivity is basic to change in rural areas and the operators are providing just that, plus a little bit extra in the name of corporate social responsibility. It gives them an identity and ensures a share of the rural market that all industries are eyeing.
Uninor, one of the new entrants, has tied up with an NGO, Hand In Hand, to help women set up computer training and multiple service centres. These centres provide SIM cards and phone connections to customers, besides giving people training in computer applications.
Hand in Hand has been doing this in Tamil Nadu for long. Now, it has got a partner in Uninor.
Women entrepreneurs in villages invest close to Rs one lakh by taking credit from the NGO, which also acts as a microfinance institution. Those women who have studied till at least Class X are making a beeline to open computer centres.
Uninor Vice-President Rajiv Bawa says they are providing connectivity and helping with the training. The project, selected for funding by the Cherie Blair Foundation, is expanding to Orissa, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. So far, 550 centres have been set up in Tamil Nadu, providing work to as many women entrepreneurs, most of whom are members of self-help groups formed by the NGO, says Hand in Hand Director Deepmala.
Bharti Airtel has formed a joint venture company with Iffco called Iffco Kisan Sanchar Ltd which plans to offer free voice updates on mandi prices, farming techniques, weather and fertiliser availability to farmers. In addition, a farmer will be able to call a dedicated helpline, manned by experts from various fields, for answers to his queries.
Airtel will also allow farmers under the scheme to call each other at 50 paise a minute. It has already enrolled over 48,000 farmers.
Bharti Chairman and Managing Director Sunil Mittal has said that Airtel wants to be the top rural telecom brand and the rural market will be worth Rs 40,000 crore with a population of 800 million in a few years.
Tata Indicom, under a project called Nano Ganesh, plans to help farmers operate irrigation pumps from remote locations. Under the service, a farmer has to buy a Tata Indicom mobile connection and a mobile modem that will be attached to the starter of the pump set. The farmer can remote-control the switch using an assigned code. He can also check availability of electricity with the instrument. The subscriber has to pay Rs 2,700 for the device, besides charges for a normal handset. There is no charge for calls to the pump.
Tata Indicom is also offering a mobile education programme in rural areas in partnership with SNDT Women’s University, Atom Tech (Any Transaction on Mobile), Mumbai, and Indian PCO Teleservices Ltd. It helps participants access educational content and take mock tests. SNDT University will develop the content, Atom Tech will provide the interface, while Tata Tele will be the carrier. Reliance Communication has launched Live Mandi in collaboration with commoditiescontrol.com, a mobile service through which farmers can get real-time prices of commodities on their mobiles. The service is available on Reliance’s GPRS portal, Reliance Mobile World, accessible in 10,000 towns and 300,000 villages.
That is some positive 2G and 3G.