Mobile VAS company IMImobile has launched My SMS, an Indic language SMS services application, which seeks to address a long standing issue of users being unable to receive local language SMS’ in India. The application allows receipt and retrieval of messages in English, Hindi, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi and Bangla. The current state of Indic language messaging apparently limits the potential for the growth of SMS in India, and it appears that two years after the 3GPP standard for Indic language SMS‘ was approved, handset manufacturers have not shown an interest in incorporating it. Madhavan Iyer, Senior Vice President (Operations) at IMImobile concurs:

MediaNama: Why do users need an application to receive Indic language messages? Won’t the message inbox suffice?
Iyer: Typically, the message inbox cannot read Unicode (a global set of standards for publishing and displaying characters), and messages will come as junk characters. Our application can read the native language in Unicode. None of the device manufactuers are concentrating on the unicode compatibility right now, and at the same time all operators are now more focused on rural and semi-urban India. According to studies, the English speaking population in class two cities is limited. We want the next set of consumers for alerts and subscription services to be this population.

IMImobile MySMSMediaNama: So what is the bearer – GPRS or the SMS network?
Since it’s a 30kb application, we’re not doing an Over The Air transfer. The application has to be downloaded via GPRS by SMS’ing MY to 56263, but after that, it will be through SMS.

MediaNama: So how does the application work?
Iyer: People can retrieve information in the Indian language. They have to download a thin client app for a J2ME and Symbian handsets (S40 and S60 series), which contributes 58-63% of the Indian handset market, and it will reside on the home screen. Once they go the application, there are 8 different language options, and people can see a list of menu, news, jokes, cricket services, spiritual messages. It is like a Sim-Took-Kit menu in Indic languages, and users can subscribe to alerts and/or get one-off information. Messages will be received by the application inbox. It is only a 30kb client, and we’re also talking to various government agencies. For example, if the health ministry in Government of India wants to publish information to rural India, the communication there primarily has to be in the native language.

MediaNama: Does this replace the original messaging platform?
Iyer:It doesn’t, it will reside on the handset separately. We are using the 3GPP standard, and have a Unicode library inside the application.

MediaNama: How much does it cost the user?
Iyer:That is purely dependent on the telecom operator. It is currently being launched on a premium short code. It is purely dependent on the operator. We’re not going to charge for message consumption.

MediaNama: What kind of tie-ups are you looking at for distribution?
Iyer:We are looking at handset embedding tie-ups, and talking to the top three handset manufacturers outside of Nokia – one is a Chinese manufatuers, and two are global. We’re also talking to operators to get this application burnt into the SIM, or sideload it using their retail network. One operator – Idea Cellular – is rolling it out. We’re also open to branded applications, for example, a Punjab Kesari can roll this out as a branded application, with their local language subscription content.

MediaNama: Won’t you have problems updating the app once it is installed?
Iyer: We won’t, because updates can happen through SMS.

Our Take

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough development around Indic language services so far. In partnership with telecom operators, IMImobile should also consider pushing this as a providing this as a replacement SMS service, the same way that Airtel looked to push Affle’s SMS 2.0 a few years ago.

Affle’s SMS platform was such that it the original messaging platform on a users handset. It tried to monetize its platform through advertisements, but I’d venture that a subscription services option built into the SMS platform might be a better, more lucrative mode of monetizing this than advertising.

However, handset compatibility will have to improve – the MySMS application isn’t compatible with the Nokia E71, a Symbian S60 handset. We weren’t able to ascertain exactly how many handsets the application is compatible with.

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