Live from a FICCI organized seminar on Rural Connectivity in India

Sanjay Gupta, Chief Marketing Officer for Mobile Services at telecom operator Bharti Airtel said that company will focus on three key services for Rural India – enabling Livelihood, Education and Healthcare. Gupta called mobile connectivity in Rural India the next Harit Kranti (Green Revolution). Gupta shared several examples of a video study in Rural India about the issues some existing consumers face, of users who

  • Have to go to another nearby village to even charge a mobile handset, and pay Rs. 20 to use a battery to recharge the phone — just because neither village as electricity.
  • Feel uncomfortable talking to Airtels customer care executives – because they’re speaking in English, or just because the phone is being answered by a woman
  • Have to travel 15km to recharge top-up their account (thanks Shefaly) a mobile handset because of distribution issues
  • Find the IVRS menu confusing, and end up buying products by accidentally activating services that they did not need.

Another indication of issues with rural outreach was outlined by Prakash Ranjalkar, COO of GTL Infrastructure, who said that even to operate telecom towers, because of lack of rural electrification, they need to transfer diesel 30 km twice a day.

Sanjay Gupta outlined the following issues that need to be dealt with. The first challenge is to network rural markets. The challenge is not as much in the network, but in the infrastructure to connect villages. Also, mobiles are not like soaps – telecom companies need to adhere to Know Your Customer (KYC) norms for getting user information back to the company for registration and verification.

Airtel is investing in a hub-and-spoke model, so that wherever there is a matchbox being sold, the company will have a presence. They’re planning to cover 2 million outlets. The company has to:

  • Make it simpler for people to use services – simplify the service plans
  • Make it easy to recharge, using smaller denominations of Rs. 5 and Rs. 10
  • Build relevance. Airtel has tied up with IFFCO (a fertilizeer company) to provide content that is relevant to the rural population. Gupta shared a call center call where the executive farmers with issues like market (mandi) prices, assistance with farming technique, weather forecasts, trouble-shooting farming issues. The solutions will be sent back via Voice SMS. The right alliances are important.

Gupta shared an audio clip of a voice SMS, offering a farmer a solution to deal with a problem of the yellowing of the leaves of a particular vegetable were yellowing.

Related: Lighting Up Rural India