Services/apps mobile

Content Is New Battleground for India's Telcos

The battles between India's telcos have typically been fought over pricing, but the next fight could be about content. As 4G networks come online, India's operators are trying to differentiate themselves and prevent churn by investing in their content portfolios.

While 4G has usually been associated with higher-speed connectivity, telcos are also finding they must offer new and innovative services to engage with their customers. The recent market entry of 4G upstart Reliance Jio has acted as a further catalyst in this area.

"The 4G era dawning on us is not going to be a battle of rates or war of the corporates -- instead it is going to be a battle of consumer segments and applications," said Himanshu Kapania, managing director of Idea Cellular Ltd. , India's third-biggest operator, during a recent earnings call. "It is going to be about partnership and collaborations to build an ecosystem of digital services that would be relevant for the many different segments of the Internet users. It is going to be about influencing and changing mindsets of millions of Indians who have never experienced Internet and are waiting to become the 'netizens' of tomorrow."

Even before the commercial launch of its services, RJio had started offering a number of apps to its customers, including Jio Mag, Jio Mediashare, Jio News and Jio Switch. Among other things, its acquisition of Network18 Group, a media company, provides it with an arsenal of unique news content. Today, RJio provides more apps than any other Indian operator.

While the incumbents are still in catch-up mode, RJio's aggressive push has compelled them to ramp up their own content and applications offerings to appeal to a broader range of subscribers. Vodafone India , the country's second-largest telco, recently said that it would be offering free access to its Vodafone Play App to all customers until December 31. Previously, free subscription was available for only a month to 4G subscribers. The app offers more than 14,000 film titles, 180 TV channels and music titles as well.

Similarly, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), India's biggest operator, recently launched a new version of its My Airtel App, which is a set of curated websites from various sources. The company also offers a messenger app called Hike and music and movie services through Wynk. It has even expanded into the games arena.

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Idea Cellular is also ramping up its presence in the app market, although it plans to act as an aggregator rather than develop its own apps. Idea has also recently launched video streaming services and is supporting payments for Google Play services.

Indian telcos are particularly keen to prevent customers from churning to third-party apps, especially ones that pose a threat to their mainstream business. Operators might take a sales hit from offering Internet telephony and messenger apps, but they can at least maintain a relationship with the end user. There is also an opportunity to record customer behavior and use the insights to develop more targeted offerings in future.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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