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Surfing on-the-go Web-based services are perhaps the new tool to increase mobile penetration in the country

Sulakshana, just about to enter the third decade of her life, runs up higher bills through her handsets than both the phones her parents have at home, and the handsets they carry! Not just through the phone calls made, but also through the other services ? browser enabled services like to games, downloads, news, music, email, of late radio, blogging, etc.

And the industry, in this case the handset manufacturers and service providers are rushing their research at breakneck speed to come up with more and more innovative ways of communicating while on the move. Introduced in varying degrees over the past two to three years, it is now getting to be crunch time for firms as they seek to increase mobile penetration in the country. ?With the data speed we are getting today, PC websites are actually moving to WAP sites on mobile? Rahul Saini, head, product design, Speak Wireless, puts it.

And Asia seems to be at the forefront. Usage of to web-based services on mobiles have proliferated 15% during 2004-05 and expected to grow at a promising rate, says the IDC Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) Consumer Internet Usage Survey 2005. Web-based services have clearly played an important role in driving growth of value added services (VAS) over the past couple of years. Web based services account for nearly 30% of the VAS pie, estimates an Idea spokesperson.

According to industry estimates, the market for value added services is between Rs 1,000 and 2,000 crore contributing almost 15% of the operators? revenue. This segment has registered over 200% growth in the last 18 months and is expected to double in a year, estimates Natesh BV, head of multimedia experiences at Nokia India. ?On an average, users spend about 10-30 minutes on the WAP portal,?he adds.

Global major, Nokia recently joined Yahoo to offer ?Yahoo! Go? service on its smartphones. The service enables people to enjoy instant access to many popular Yahoo services like e-mail, Messaging, Photos, Organiser, Calendar or Search options on the go, says Natesh. The application allows users to stay informed, entertained and connected while on the move and provides a desktop-like interface on the mobile. The auto-sync feature offers a seamless experience by connecting users to the web services regardless of the device.

Vishal Maheshwari, director (mobile), Yahoo India stresses that the customer is not just looking to enhance core services of email and messaging, but also looking towards new services. ?We have introduced the SMS backup service and are looking to add more services in the near future,? he says. But it?s the growth rate he cites that?s amazing. ?On the go services have picked up in the last few months and we have grown by about 600% in the last ten months,? he claims. The new promo for Reliance mobiles highlights the ease with which railway booking and reservations can be made via handsets. Airtel, which brought in the only on-the-go technology available globally in 2004 with the Blackberry to India, today targets its online portal, Live which has movies, music, cricket and to games on offer.

?With over 50,000 pieces of content available on the portal, close to 20% of the Airtel customer base uses this service regularly?, claims a company spokesperson.

New services on offer or have the potential to become popular among all audiences are mobile banking, blogging and railway bookings.

There is a great relationship between the Internet and the mobile phone as consumers have realised that data needs can be satisfied by a mobile phone. This relationship has made business on the move a reality. Saini is confident that mobile phones will assume the role of PCs in the future as with data storage to flash PPTs, mobiles can do everything. Even if the mobile does not really replace the PC, clearly increased connectivity makes it even more indispensable.

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