BSE listed telecom operator Reliance Communications has launched Internet and mobile initiatives for targeting Rural India: BharatNet Wireless Internet, Grameen VAS services and interestingly, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications. The services are expected to go live by September 1st 2009. The rural challenge for telecom operators is a unique one: growth in urban India is plateuing, and the rural effort is essentially a land-grab of subscribers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these subscribers operate on Zero balance in their pre-paid accounts, and with lifetime validity of their accounts. Keeping that in mind, services are an important means of making them recharge their accounts and use telecom services.

The BharatNet Wireless Internet Plan will offer speeds of 153 Kbps wireless service for Rs. 98 per week, with a download limit of upto 350 MB. This appears to be the same as RCOMs first generation wireless data card service, and effectively at Rs. 392 per month for 1400 MB for 153 Kbps, it doesn’t appear to be an enticing proposition. That said, it is still a better price that Netconnect’s Rs. 650 for 1GB. Reliance the Bharatnet Plan targets a rather low “existing addressable market base of around 4 million PC users in rural India”, who face quality of service issues with dialup Internet services. BharatNet will cover 20,000 rural locations across the country; Netconnect covered “20000 towns, 4.5 lakh villages”.

RCOM’s Grameen Mobile VAS services will cover 500,000 Indian villages, and offer education, health and travel services, facilitate commerce and transactions. Services will include Mandi Bhav (commodity prices), Agriculture & Animal Husbandry Updates, Weather Forecast, Local Info, Samachar (news), as well as community messaging. Most importantly, these will be available in multiple Indic Languages, and accessible via Voice Portals, SMS, USSD and Data. Grameen VAS is priced at Rs.15/month.  Note that Reuters has its Market Light service, which also powers Nokia Life Tools; RML is priced much higher at  Rs 175 for 3 months, Rs 350 for 6 months and Rs 650 for 1 year. The Reliance ADA group has 40 percent stake in a joint venture with government owned rural fertilizer co-operative Kribhco for  retailing telecom services. Competitor Bharti Airtel has a joint venture with another fertilizer co-operative: IFFCO.

Of the three, Machine to Machine Applications (M2M) appears to be the most interesting: we’ve written earlier about NanoGanesh, for remotely turning off water pumps using mobile phones. The benefit for the farmer is that he doesn’t need to go at unearthly hours or in treacherous conditions or terrain to switch his water pump on or off. RCOMs M2M applications aim to help in automation, surveillance, remote monitoring, and data gathering, for automation of Agro & Irrigation services, water level monitoring, and data gathering for milk & agri-cooperatives, fisheries, poultry, and soil analysis.


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