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Need information? Try SMS search
Seema Sindhu in New Delhi
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January 22, 2009 14:29 IST

Searching for information on your city? Your cellphone could be of use. Telecom firms offering local search service to subscribers say the response to the service has been good. They also expect volumes to swell once 3G, the spectrum that allows more room for value-added services, is allotted.

Sunzay Passari, chief of VAS and devices at BPL Mobile, said that Mumbai Search (BPL's local search service) receives 600-800 queries a day. He added: "Since Internet penetration is low, mobile search is a more promising domain in India." In a month, BPL's search facility will be available through the Internet as well.

Both Airtel and BPL launched this facility two months back. Airtel receives 500,000 queries a month. BPL's service is available only in Mumbai and the content is provided by its own team. Airtel services six cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bangalore) and has tied up with Asklaila for content.

The service is offered through SMS, call centres and the Internet. Industry experts said 8-10 million people use mobile search. Two million people use the Internet and the rest use SMSs and call centres.

The operators' main source of revenue is premium SMS (what they charge for search query). Advertising from the local merchants getting listed in the search is a promising option.

Kiran Konduri, co-founder, Asklaila, said: "In the pilot phase, we got 100 advertisers. Leads is the main source of revenue for us. We provide users free call connect facility and get paid from the merchants in return." It shares this revenue with Airtel.

An Airtel spokesperson added, "Access to the service is free to stimulate demand and eliminate entry barriers. We are looking to charge the local merchants for monetisation via listing fee, lead generation, call connect, etc."

Passari from BPL, though, had a different plan: "We don't want to make it a classified platform as merchants start expecting magical results from it. Driving volumes is the key to make it profitable."

But when Google search (which already has a local search facility) is available for free on any network, why tie-up with local vendors?

An Airtel spokesperson said, "Google has indexed a lot of content and is great for answering queries of a global nature. But in order to cater to localised city-specific information, a specialist with the relevant data ownership and merchant ecosystem is necessary for monetisation."

Passari from BPL said, "Local content is not as niche on Google as it is on Mumbai Search."

Google had a different take. "Google has much more content, local search is as comprehensively listed as global search," Alok Goel, product manager, Google India, said.

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