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Bharti Airtel focuses on mobile applications to drive growth

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Till late last year, zonal tax collectors at Chennai Corporation carted documents while assessing arrears related to property tax and collecting arrears from customers. The data were updated in a ledger book, after they collected the arrears.

However, this exercise could be done only weekly. The delay impacted the tax collection process, and also led to a mismatch between the tax paid by the customer as compared to the information held in the system.

India’s largest private sector telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, stepped in with a mobile-enabled tax collection system. Tax collectors were given a BlackBerry and a small Bluetooth printer that could be used to issue a receipt instantly.

Today, a tax collector accepts payment and captures the details instantly on his BlackBerry. As the handheld device is capable of connecting with the back-end database wirelessly, it can retrieve data from the server and store it locally.

Similarly, Airtel has developed a traffic automation solution for the Bangalore Traffic Police, which “is the world’s largest BlackBerry-supported law enforcement network”. The Bangalore Transport Information System (BTIS) records traffic densities in real-time and uses Airtel’s mobile network to keep the public informed and updated to facilitate and steer towards optimal road choices.

Applications such as these, believes Airtel, will now take centre-stage as the company grows its business.

“Airtel started with communication (telephone calls), then moved to content (e.g. DTH and IPTV). Now applications are gathering momentum and boosting our business prospects,” explains Jai Menon, director for technology and customer service at as well as group chief information officer of the Bharti Enterprises group.

Applications cut across all three segments of the company — consumers, small businesses and enterprises. On the consumer front, for instance, Bharti Airtel is facilitating e-commerce (the company does not want to restrict the word to m-commerce) for its slightly over 100 million subscribers and the 1.3 million retail outlets that it works with.

For its subscribers, it has e-commerce applications like m-check, wherein a subscriber can register to pay for Airtel or other merchant services with their debit or credit cards. Airtel also has tie-ups with portals like makemytrip.com to book tickets.

For the retail outlets, Airtel has an application called LAPU, which the retailers use for over-the-counter payments by consumers to recharge their mobiles, etc.

Menon says: “All these transactions are very secure, and the user interface very simple to use”. He adds that nearly 250 million e-commerce transactions are conducted every month.

For small businesses, explains Menon, software as a service (Saas) is becoming a reality.

“We are wrapping this as a full service, and are seeing around 25,000-30,000 transactions every month,” he adds.

Airtel has many options for small businesses, like hosted e-mail solutions and online desktops and the netPC (tie-up with Novio and Microsoft). Prices range anywhere between Rs 70 and Rs 1,000 per month, depending on the application.

The enterprise segment, with over 1 million transactions every month, involve applications like that used by the Chennai Corporation and the Bangalore police. In July, Airtel had launched an application which took advantage of its wireless network, and could be installed on any mobile handset to enable enterprises to access their data and do business from anywhere around the world.

The concept is similar to cloud computing initiatives initiated by several companies, wherein managers and salespersons (also known as the field force) access business data using the internet from their personal computers (notebooks and desktops) to transact business online.

The difference here is that executives use Airtel’s GSM network on any mobile handset to access their business-critical data, like their enterprise resource planning (ERP) databases, e-mail and intranets. Users can install a client application, called the Mobile Applications Tool for Enterprises (Mate) from Airtel on their handsets.

The move makes business sense for Airtel, which derives around 22 per cent of its total revenues from the enterprise segment. Enterprise value-added services, or VAS, plays a crucial part in the overall VAS industry (estimated to touch Rs 16,500 crore by 2010-end), offering high-value tailor-made solutions and services to enterprises. Enterprise VAS alone is expected to touch around Rs 1,000 crore in three to five years.

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