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Astrology, a jackpot for mobile firms!

Hemangi Balse in Mumbai | May 14, 2005

Want to know which time of the day, month, or year is the most auspicious for you to embark on your new project?

Forget running all the way to your favourite astrologer. Predictions and advice are just a cellphone call away. Astro service is now the new money-spinner for the mobile phone business.

Bharti Tele-Ventures, Idea Cellular, Tata Indicom and Reliance Infocomm are vying for a large pie of this business, which appeals to the Indian psyche. Whether the subscribers are getting the right advice from astrologers is debatable. But, at least, they are predicting a bright future for the telecom companies.

With astrology and its allied activities considered to be a whopping Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) business, this service is being lapped up by end users like never before.

In Gujarat, which is considered to be a big market, Bharti Tele-Ventures that launched the service last year has outsourced it to a private call centre which earlier catered to queries online.

Now, with about 40 astrologers working on two shifts, the service is now exclusive to Bharti's Gujarat subscribers. "We offer this service across the country in all circles. But the demand is more in Gujarat. It is very popular and our fixed lines, too, cater to the clientele," says a Bharti Tele-Venture executive.

In fact, the telecom industry is fast realising that passion for astrology is highly region-specific.

Reliance Infocomm takes into consideration the choghadiya (auspicious period during the day) while offering this service in Gujarat. Down south, subscribers are keen to know the rahu kalam, the inauspicious period during the day.

Until April this year, Tata Indicom was offering its service free. Now, it charges Rs 6 per minute for a query posted on the voice portal 1590. The fee is Rs 2 for any query through the short messaging service (SMS) for a post-paid customer and Re 1 for a pre-paid customer.

Reliance offers two options. Its monthly subscription tag is Rs 25, while a daily pass is for Rs 3. Bharti's tariff is similar to Tata Indicom.

Idea Cellular, Hutchison Essar and CDMA service operator Tata Teleservices have also launched this service through 'Ganesha Speaks', a programme spearheaded by noted astrologer Bejan Daruwalla. This service is available to all pre-paid and post-paid customers without any additional subscription charge.

Says Hemang Pandit, chief executive officer of Ganesha Speaks: "We have five call centres across the country. On an average, we receive anywhere between 2,500 and 3,000 calls every day."

He claims that one-third of the calls are routed to Ahmedabad where about 60 astrologers work in three shifts. There are plans to increase its current roster of 120 astrologers.

And what do they advise? Predictions apart, there's a mad rush to know the muhurtam or auspicious time for attending job interviews, meeting prospective brides and starting new ventures.

"We receive at least 1,000 calls a month only on astrology in the Gujarat circle, which is part of our voice portal. With similar demands pouring in from other centres, we are planning a few astrology call centres. It is the highest revenue earner for us," says the Bharti Tele-Ventures executive.

Reliance's R-World service, which went 'paid' from April 1 this year, has an interactive system to tackle subscriber queries.

"We cover as many as 11 streams of astrology ranging from Feng Shui, horoscope and love match to numerology, tithi, tarrot, Vastu, rashi and hora besides choghadiya and rahu kalam," says a Reliance Infocomm executive.

So move over ringtones, cricket scores, songs and wallpaper downloads. An astrologer predicts that your days are numbered.

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