An interesting little trend has emerged over the last month or so: Bharti Airtel has launched a web interface for its mobile services, including for its Caller Ringback Tones (Hello Tunes) and other mobile Value Added Services, apart from launching its own online recharge platform a few weeks ago.

While the web interface for CRBT offers Airtel subscribers a listing of all its Hello Tunes, which can be bought, sampled, and gifted, the other site allows users to browse, search and subscribe to about 85 VAS products including missed call alerts, Airtel Radio, Airtel Talkies, Mobile TV, Friends Locator and others. This helps improve discovery of VAS products, which at times gets lost in SMS keywords and shortcuts, or, in case of CRBT, put off by the cumbersome process of searching through service IVR portals.

Why No Mobile Interface?

We tried to access the website on a phone which has an Airtel connection, with Airtel’s APN settings, and found that it’s not optimized for mobile and just offered the desktop version of the website. Why would Airtel not offer a mobile experience for a service that is essentially targeted at its mobile customers?

How Does It Work?

The subscriber can listen to a tune sample on the web browser and set it as his caller tune after entering his mobile number and confirming a code sent to him via SMS. The terms and conditions and the charges are mentioned on the prompt that asks for the confirmation code.  The tune sample playback did not work for us on a Chrome browser in Mac OS X. However, we did receive a confirmation code after entering our Airtel number. The tune can be shared with Facebook friends and can be gifted to another Airtel subscriber, as well.

This is not the first time that an operator has taken its VAS offerings to a web interface. Tata Docomo had launched a Facebook application dubbed as Songshare which acted like a control center for the service, enabling search, recommendation and activation of ring back tones, from within Facebook. Another operator agnostic service was U2opia Mobile’s Fonedoo, which aggregates caller ring back tones for Airtel, Tata Indicom, Tata DOCOMO and Vodafone, and also supports online activation of VAS products for Reliance Communications. However, at the time of writing this post, it seems that the listings are not being updated on the site.

Nikhil adds: CRBT search and activate services, like this from Rediff, have been around for a while, as have online recharge services, but now, instead of just integrating with third party vendors (and hence paying a cut), Airtel is looking at providing visitors to its own sites with options. On the face of it, this seems like the obvious, but that it has taken this long for a telco to roll such services out, and that there is still no mobile web version of the same pages just goes to show how slow telcos move, apart from indicating that they’re now taking the online audience more seriously.