Soon after TRAI issued a mandate to telecom VAS providers to seek approval from customers before billing them for certain, Airtel has launched a service that promises more control to the user. Called Start/Stop, the service has been officially launched last Monday.
Around 40 VAS providers and short code owners (who in turn have more offerings) who deal with Airtel have been asked to be compliant with Start/Stop, Rajesh Razdan, Founder, MCarbon told Medianama. MCarbon has implemented the first phase of Start/Stop for Airtel and will eventually hand it over to IBM, which manages all the customer-facing systems for Airtel.
The Start/Stop Service
Start/Stop will allow Airtel users to manage value added services on their mobile – those offered by Airtel (on-deck), as well as third party subscription VAS (off-deck or Direct to Consumer) – users can now unsubscribe from individual VAS by sending an SMS to toll-free short code 121.
Customers will be taken to an interface which will show them all the Value Added Services to which they are subscribed. They can then choose to subscriber or unsubscribe from the services using an interactive SMS session which will confirm their response. You can view a demo of the service here. Currently available only on 121, the company is also planning to extend this to Airtel’s short code 54321.
Do Not Disturb
This is not the first attempt at offering more control to the mobile user. Besides all operators offering Do Not Call/ Disturb services, a national Do Not Disturb directory was created in 2007 for users fed up with unwanted telemarketing calls. It has been a failure so far with no policing by the regulatory body to ensure that operators toe the line.
“It is time for good governance. Start/Stop is of value to the end user,” says Razdan. Users have been ready for this for a long while and will welcome the service. Would other operators replicate such a service? We think that on one hand it would mean a boost to their customer satisfaction scores but on the other hand, they might lose out on VAS business which is becoming an increasingly competitive arena. But it may just be in their best interests. A VAS exec recently told MediaNama: “Senior management in telecom companies are very conscious of churn, and they don’t want to risk losing 90% of the revenue which comes from voice (ED: 10% comes from VAS/non-voice, including P2P SMS)”.
Cell Phone Etiquette & Call Manager
MCarbon is also lining up more value added services under the theme of etiquette, the first of which will allow mobile users to schedule their mobiles to go into Silent mode or even bar incoming calls when they want. Razdan says MCarbon’s Call Manager service is going to launch in a few weeks and will bring more control on accessibility to users: Let’s say you decide that when you reach home you would like to spend some time with your family and not receive any phone calls from the office, you will now be able to set a filter or schedule the mobile to bar incoming calls. While on roaming, you will be able to decide which contacts you will want to allow to reach you and which you do not. It will also offer a Do Not Disturb facility, said Razdan.
Channel 99: Music, DRM & Anti Piracy
Razdan is also ready with a prototype of Channel 99, their music on demand service that will non-intrusively push songs to your phone when bandwidth is available. MCarbon will not stream the music and will offer full track downloads. The songs can be downloaded using MCarbon’s client application.
When asked about the anti-piracy raids that the country’s top music labels have been conducting under the banner of Indian Music Industry, Razdan told us that the songs will be DRM-enabled. A consortium of 90 companies such as Saregama, Venus, Sangeetha, Sony Music, Universal Music, BMG Crescendo and Tips called the IMI has stepped up efforts to control music piracy across the nation.
“Mobiles are a medium of distributing music and can be used by those who do not have the luxury of buying a CD,” he said, adding that if people are buying ringtones for Rs 10 or even Rs 50, the industry along with music owners and aggregators should try to offer them in a suitable format through a legalised channel.
MCarbon is looking at a different way of launching Channel 99 – while most VAS companies immediately tie up with operators for a co-branded service, the company is considering tie-ups with retail outlets. If the scenario works out as he describes it, a user could walk into a PlanetM and pay for a song which MCarbon will send directly to the mobile. A case that suits everyone but the operator – music labels and owners get to keep their content safe and earn royalty, VAS providers reach out to mobile users through a different route and retail outlets get an opportunity to play a role. Are users benefited? Complete songs in high quality and the choice of selecting songs without having to listen to an IVR are the pros while the inability to make an impulsive purchase and a not-so-convenient billing are cons. Yet, it is a welcome choice for mobile users who seek some flexibility and control over what is stored on their mobiles. What would you prefer? “We will make the decision in a few weeks,” Razdan said.
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