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Smart phones are here!
Surajeet Das Gupta |
November 17, 2004
Several PDAs and smart phones have been launched in India -- and mobile service companies are offering services built around them to corporate clients.
Ever so often, the mobile phone services world confronts a defining moment. Such a moment has perhaps arrived.
Personal digital assistants and smart phones with an even more exciting range of features have been launched in India -- and mobile phone service companies are scrambling to offer an array of services to back these new handsets.
These include corporate email for executives on the move, sales automation solutions, data entry functions and other business-to-business as well as business to consumer applications.
If you're a Hutchison Essar subscriber, you can expect a Motorola MPx 200, offered as part of a tie-up with Hutchison. This offers instant email using a Hutchison interface, the ability to chat on MSN Messenger, to browse the Internet through Internet Explorer and read Powerpoint and Word files.
It's available with an MP3 player and up to 1 GB of memory. A cheaper option: the Rs 15,000 Taiwanese QTEK smart phone.
Look too at the Kyocera 7135, launched by Reliance Infocomm. The code division multiple access smart phone is compatible with the Palm operating system, has 16 MB of memory, an email and browsing option, a databook that includes memo pads and photosuite (thanks to which you can store pictures).
Yet another smart phone that will be out in the market is the HP Ipaq. With a 3.5 inch TFT screen, it is powered by Windows mobile software and has 64 MB SDRAM.
Mobile service companies, meanwhile, have launched several new services. Hutchison Essar has tied up with Microsoft to launch 'Microsoft Outlook on Hutch,' which allows Hutch users to access their office email on their general packet radio switching mobile phones.
Hutch subscribers can read, download, edit and send Microsoft Outlook email with Microsoft Word, Excel or Power Point attachments, using their Hutch GPRS handsets. To ensure that Outlook-enabled handsets are available, Hutchison has tied up with Motorola to sell its PDAs though their distribution channels though a special installment payment scheme.
The company has already roped in 800 users and expects the numbers to grow to 10,000 to 15,000 in a few months.
Not to be outdone, Reliance Infocomm has launched an email service for enterprises christened "Office Mail" which works on any Reliance phone, including entry-level models. Subscribers with phones that have Office Mail can access their corporate e-mail and reply to them while they are on the move.
Say Mahesh Prasad, Reliance Infocomm's president, applications solutions group: "We have already roped in 15 corporate national accounts and our mail supports virtually 100 per cent of the servers that companies put up in their offices."
Reliance is also testing out office automation applications on PDAs like the HP Ipac -- over 2,000 of its engineers are using it for trouble-shooting.
A fortnight ago, Bharti unveiled the BlackBerry, which offers enterprises solutions -- email on the go (you can read email, compose mail, open Adobe, Powerpoint, or Excel attachments, reply to or delete mail from your office or other email accounts from anywhere around the globe).
With the BlackBerry, you don't even have to turn up in office. And unlike the older PDAs, you don't require the cumbersome cradle, which had to be carried everywhere to synchronise your PDA with your office personal computer -- you can sync wirelessly with the PC and access your appointment diary, address book and memo pad even if you are far away from your office PC.
This PDA has been bought by over a million people globally. Bharti has already roped in clients like Coca Cola, Unitech, KPMG, Hewitt and Wipro.
Says Jai Menon, president, Bharti Televentures: "Typically we get the top 5 to 10 in a company picking up the BlackBerry, then it ramps up."
Just how big is this market? Replies Karthik Padmanabhan, business group head at Microsoft, which is pushing its operating system for mobile phones: "There are 2,000 large companies and the top 20 in each for whom information access improves business are potential targets."
He adds that India has over four million business PCs. Of these, 25 per cent come up for replacement every year. PDAs are an effective alternative to PCs as PDAs offer mobility. On his part, Menon argues that PDAs could be an effective productivity tool for India's 25,000-plus small and medium enterprises.
What also offers hope to companies that offer services linked to PDAs and smart phones are that mobile phone service subscribers are slowly succumbing to the lure of data services. GPRS and Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (Edge) services are starting to catch on.
By 2007, revenues from data services are expected to virtually double to 7-10 per cent of a mobile service company's revenues from only 3 per cent today. Mobile service companies are already finding a direct link between the launch of these services and average revenues per user.
For example, the voice ARPU of Hutchison subscribers who use these services shot up by 30 per cent to 40 per cent. According to Hutchison executives, most make calls after receiving email to clarify points or continue their discussions, so pushing up bills.
Each mobile service company, however, has tailored its strategy differently. The Bharti group's services are directed at the upscale subscriber -- they don't come cheap and upfront costs are high.
The BlackBerry is priced at Rs 18,990 to Rs 32,990 (remember, only 3 per cent of the mobile phones sold here are priced above Rs 15,000). Companies have to foot a bill for another Rs 215,000 (for 20 users) for the privilege of installing a BlackBerry server in the office.
Subscribers too have to shell out a minimum Rs 1,799 to obtain data while on the move. The Bharti group says it wants to ensure that there is no compromise on the quality of services and that a separate sales force has been deployed to sell the product to large companies (while making its pitch, the sales force argues that the BlackBerry improves corporate efficiency by 30 per cent simply because executives can carry work when they're on the move).
Says Menon: "In other markets the data service costs about US $ 50.
So we are not expensive. And customers are already paying Rs 600 for GPRS services today."
Dedicated leased lines carrying only BlackBerry data ensure that email is delivered to the PDA in 30 seconds flat. A dedicated call centre and number have also been put in place for subscribers. For the time being, the BlackBerry is available only in 12 cities.
Menon wants to develop newer applications for the BlackBerry -- he is working on solutions for distribution, banking, finance and manufacturing companies.
Also on the anvil are specific modules for small businesses (which won't have to use a desktop if they have a BlackBerry) and for professionals like lawyers and insurance agents.
Bharti Televentures expects prices of handsets to drop dramatically to below Rs 10,000 after new PDAs are launched (BlackBerry has already launched the 7100t for $ 199 and this will be launched in India next year).
Not everyone, however, thinks that subscribers will opt for high-priced BlackBerry services. Research by Reliance Infocomm suggests that companies are not willing to spend so much money on buying PDAs because they think that the return on their investment is inadequate.
Says Prasad: "We are handset agnostic as we realised companies don't like caveats being put up." That's why Reliance is offering services that are available even on the entry level phone.
The company's research also shows that 90 per cent of subscribers use these services merely to read e-mail -- they rarely download attachments, a feature BlackBerry tom toms.
Predictably, Reliance's Prasad also underlines the point that companies that subscribe to Reliance Infocomm's services don't have to invest in a separate server, as in the case of BlackBerry services -- any main server will do for Reliance Infocomm's services.
Reliance Infocomm's services can be used even by companies that don't have a server but depend on Internet service providers for block e-mail IDs. These can be instantly moved to the mobile phone.
Then, says Prasad, the mail sent via a BlackBerry has to be copied in the company's data centre in London, but that's not the case with Reliance Infocomm services. In sum, Reliance Infocomm executives say, security can be a major issue (bunkum, Bharti executives retort -- the White House and the Pentagon use BlackBerry).
Reliance Infocomm is aiming at garnering big subscriber numbers and so offers corporate e-mail for Rs 99 a month, with a 50 per cent discount for early bird (next six months) subscribers.
It's also throwing in value added extras free -- subscribers, for instance, are offered an Office Directory; you can check the directory by the press of a button and search for the phone numbers of any of your colleagues.
Hutchison, meanwhile, wants to bring the PC experience to the mobile phone. Says Microsoft's Padmanabhan: "The whole idea is to extend the PC at your office to the mobile. So you can carry your Power Point, Excel sheets, do instant chatting and e-mail as if you have a PC."
Hutchison too is banking on its lower price to take on the BlackBerry. The basic price for the service is Rs 499 for which you are offered 100 megabytes of data, more than enough for 90 per cent of subscribers.
Secondly, with nearly 70 per cent of companies using a Microsoft Exchange server, no additional cost is incurred, unlike in the case of BlackBerry. But at Rs 16,000 to Rs 30,000, phones like the Motorola MPx 200 and QTEK are about as expensive as Bharti's BlackBerrys.
The big question here is whether the corporate market for such services will grow by leaps and bounds. At the moment, mobile service companies are principally offering corporate e-mail.
If the market is to grow, much more has to be offered, catering to the needs of various industries. Secondly, prices of devices have to fall.Says Percy Batlivala, general manager, south west Asia, personal communication sector, Motorola India, which is planning to launch two to three new PDAs in the market, all priced at over Rs 20,000: "Mobile service companies will need to subsidise the instrument's price once they feel they can get consistent and high ARPUs from customers. That will bring down entry level costs."