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Indian telcos follow global peers, tap mobile apps biz for growth
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NEW DELHI: Indian telcos are joining communication majors such as Vodafone, AT&T and France Telecom in a bid to capitalise on the global boom in the mobile applications space. On Tuesday, mobile operator Aircel, along with software major Infosys, will unveil the country’s first mobile application store.

The concept involves allowing independent software developers to produce a range of applications for Aircel’s customers on a revenue sharing basis. Here, Infosys will provide the IT backbone and software kits that will allow developers to come up with products and services targeting the ‘desi’ user. Globally, developers also sell their applications (called apps) for a one-time fee or even offer it for free as increased usage of their apps drives advertisers to their products and solutions.

In mid-2009, Bharti Airtel became the first Indian telco to have an independent developers community to develop applications and services for the over 120-million customers across its mobile, landline, internet, IPTV and DTH services. Over 1,000 developers have signed up for the Airtel Open Developers Community, on the lines of such communities owing allegiance to global technology firms such as Apple, Google and Nokia.

Executives with Airtel said that the telco, along with IT major IBM, was on track to launch its app stores in 2010. Airtel provides the software development kit, the main set of tools needed to write applications, to AODC members and also trains them to build applications across the three screens — PC, mobile and TV. Airtel has also roped in over 100 companies — including Infosys, Indiagames, Mobile2Win, Versa, Symbiotic, Pyro, Hungama and OnMobile amongst others — to develop solutions on its IBM-built service development platform.

The moves by Bharti and Aircel are seen as a tacit recognition from mobile operators that the future of mobile technology is in the hands of independent developers who can gauge market needs. It also emphasises the fact that operators are positioned to drive apps, since they understand their consumers better and have far greater insight into their usage. Additionally, the apps developed by the Bharti and Aircel platforms will be independent of handsets.

The app store business model was pioneered by Apple, which now offers over 1,00,000 apps that have been developed by independent software developers for its iPhone users. So far, Apple has witnessed over a billion downloads from its App Store’s catalogue.

Google’s mobile phone operating system Android is an open source platform designed to allow independent developers to write their own programmes for devices using it. Microsoft has Windows Marketplace for mobile, where independent software developers can monetise applications built for its Windows Mobile operating system for mobile phones.

The year 2009 also saw other handset makers Nokia and Samsung and others launch their app stores in a bid to replicate Apple’s model. This resulted in telecom companies such as AT&T and Vodafone entering this space as they did not want to concede revenues to handset makers. Vodafone, the world’s largest private telecoms company, has a developer community called Betavine to make applications for the telco as well as for handset makers such as Nokia and Samsung.

Analysts and industry watchers said that Indian operators’ move to venture into the apps space will put them in direct competition with handset makers such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung. Besides, India also boasts of one of the largest independent developers’ communities globally, who are now being targeted by mobile companies, handset and software makers.

Open source major Sun Microsystems has about 8 lakh independent software developers in India, while the world’s largest handset maker Nokia has 1,80,000 registered developers here, the highest among all the countries. Nokia had launched its own version of the app store, called Ovi in May 2009, and according to Nokia’s executive vice president and head of the mobile phones entity Rick Simonson, the store is registering over a million downloads everyday.

Nokia executives also pointed out that India was among the top five countries in terms of downloads from Ovi.

The competition is only set to intensify as Nokia is all set to unveil a desi-version of the Ovi store, where the apps will be customised for the domestic market and customers will also be able to make payments in Indian currency.

Recently, the handset maker also launched software kits that will enable developers here to come out with content in local languages. BlackBerry maker RIM, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson have all launched similar initiatives in India.

'Nokia is upbeat on the future of the apps model taking off'

“We are ahead of the BlackBerry Store and Google’s Android Store, which puts us at the No. 2 position, right after the Apple Store. In May 2009, when we launched, we were present in about 60 countries, but now we have expanded to over 180 countries. We don’t think that people in emerging markets need hundreds of thousands of apps, but rather they need ones that are relevant to them, ones that can improve the quality of their lives. We will emerge successful here because an application that has relevance for emerging markets can be used across Asia, Africa and Latin America because of our reach. We will win because our size and scale enables us to have an active dialogue with over a billion customers who use our products,” Rick Simonson had added in his interaction with ET.

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