3G, for Bharti Airtel, will mostly be about video and driving data consumption. While the company has declined to comment on pricing, which will invariably determine consumption and revenues from 3G services, they did say that their existing SIM card’s will be ready to switch over to 3G services: quite literally, as we suggested last year, the flipping of a switch, once a customer requests provisioning. But there remains the arduous task of attracting consumers to 3G services, or indeed, the Mobile Internet.
Last Thursday, at a press conference where Airtel unveiled its new brand, and showcased some 3G services, we got to see a demo of what’s in store. You can get a glimpse of what they’re planning to launch at this WAP page, where they have a 3G Zone:
– Video Talkies: a video version of Audio Cinema (or Audio Talkies). A full movie is crunched into 15 minutes of viewing, with popular dialogs, and and narration. Shotformats is providing the platform for Video Talkies for Airtel, and the content is multiple content partners – some from aggregators and others from direct deals, including from UTV New Media (which was the first to launch Audio Cinema, under TN Prabhu).
Currently, Airtel is doing only movies, but they will look at doing TV show summaries.
– Video TV: Airtel has partnered with Apalya for video content, with live streaming of TV channels, and also featuring archival content, including archives of TV shows. Airtel execs at the launch didn’t confirm or deny whether, like in case of the broadcast business, carrying Doordarshan is mandated. From what we’ve heard (and this is unconfirmed), a notification has gone out from the Ministry of I&B to telecom operators asking to carry Doordarshan. There’s a 30 second lag in terms of live streaming, since the stream goes through an additional server, we were told.
My take is that TV Show summaries might see greater traction that full length films, both in case of Video TV and Video Talkies: Three or four years ago, I remember STAR saying that they noticed that TV viewers in Uttar Pradesh were willing to pay Rs. 6 per minute to listen to audio summaries of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, because of power cuts in the evening, while the show was on. Airtel has Dabanng as exclusive content on Video Talkies, but power cuts might help drive revenues more than exclusive content.
– Video Alerts: judging by this page, Airtel will have content related Video Alerts, powered by VuClip.
– Video Calling: We did see a demo of 3G based video calls, which allow callers to see each other. This is a product which hasn’t quite taken off globally, and will require handsets with a camera in the front as well.
Additionally, Airtel will have video alerts, instead of voice based alerts.
A factor that Kushan Mitra pointed out to me a few weeks ago, was that most mobile phone handsets in India do not have a front facing camera, which will inhibit 3G video calling in India. The other thing – and this is not a joke – one key drive or 3G video calling in India might just end of being phone sex. Remember that the infamous DPS MMS scandal was a tipping point, in terms of people realizing that mobile phones can do video. Phone sex and the scandals that might follow would probably do the same for video calling, and unlike in case of licensed content, there will be no way to monitor those.
– Music store: Airtel has a download to own music store. The music is DRM protected and cannot be transferred from mobile phone to PC, or mobile phone to mobile phone. The content is aggregated from T-Series (Hungama) and PPL music on board.
– 3G Apps: Airtel’s App Central has a separate section now for 3G apps,which are essentially mobile Internet based data consuming applications. Currently, as 3G apps: Fring, Mingle 2.0, WSJ India Mobile, Push email and Push IM, Mobiquus, Socially, Yahoo Mobile, RockeTalk, Nimbuzz, Palringo, Maps on Mobile, Qeep, Mig33, Mobiscope videos from webcams etc.
– 3G Data card: Airtel did a demo of its 3G data card, which consistently did 3.2 mbps, outperforming its 2G data card (though Airtel did not compare the speed with EVDO data cards from Reliance Communications, Tata Indicom or MTS). Readers should keep in mind that the 3G data card was demo’ed in a test environment, and the consistency of this speed depends on the number of concurrent users in an area using the service, as well as the density of 3G cell sites in an area.
Essentially, as Nitin Misra, GM (Platform Innovation & 3G VAS, Marketing) at Airtel told us on Thursday, “Everything which was earlier available on voice, will be now be on video.” He added that these services are just being demo’ed, and the product construct might change with a commercial launch. Apart from this, Airtel informs us that they’ll have video blogging and video chatting, apart from data heavy mobile comics, Baba Ramdev content (for which, as far as we know, Rajshri Media has digital rights). There was no confirmation about whether celebrity Airtel Blogs are being converted into Video Blogs.
What was missing?
– Video portal based turn-based mobile gaming, wherein you can dial in to play games like Chess, Battleships or Snakes & Ladders.
– Video Greetings: we’re not sure if Voice SMS has really caught on, but it might be interesting for Airtel to seed Video SMS as “Video Greetings” instead of Video Messages, to begin with, allowing people to wish each other using video. The issue here, might be the same as for Voice SMS – interoperability.
Most importantly, the pricing for these services wasn’t mentioned.