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Are We Ready for Operator Independent Application Stores in India?

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Some days back while talking to Mr. Chetan Patil of goBroadband, an eminent telecom  blogger & friend of mine, who complained me about Indian startups and quality of  products they launch, continued to say that very few of the Indian Startups have  ability to build API for others &  build ecosystem thereafter. Don’t take me wrong Chetan, at least I know someone out here in Delhi who is building up a company( and world’s first open mobile recharge API too) revolving around a relatively new idea in Indian telecom space — build an operator/devices/OS independent application store in India.

If you haven’t heard of Mobikwik by this time; its ok, you will soon probably.  Rated as one of the top 25 Indian startups by SiliconIndia Smart-Techie Magazine, Mobikwik holds lot of promises. But what’s this fuss about building an Operator Independent Application Store in India and what Mobikwik has to do with it? Telecom India is ever changing & fresh in its outlook. Recently, when we wrote about Airtel’s launch of Application Store in India, we speculated that sooner or later the competition to dominate application space will reach its pinnacle in India. Operators launching  app store is fine, but will app store survive without a carrier’s support or even without a device manufacturer’s support in India?

The idea of operator independent app store isn’t new. As said, these stores are called “Neutral stores”. Through AppleStore (whose iPhone is tied up with AT&T in US & Airtel/Voda in India), which has more than 100,000 applications to download, Apple offers carrier independent applications for all its users. So if you have an iPhone, you can download applications irrespective of carrier (operator). This operator (carrier) independent app store model was later followed by Google Android and even by Nokia with varying success.  Is it a thumb rule of application innovation in mobile industry? Does it guarantee the success?

Team Mobikwik knows it better.  Certainly, there exists an opportunity. But you need to tap it. According to Rajesh Jain:-

There are four elements one needs to put together in the mobile space: alternate payments of collecting money independent of the operator, which Apple is doing in the U.S. through credit cards built up largely first through the iTunes music they sell. The second is having a large reach, so you can reach tens of millions of people cost-effectively so you can make them aware of the services. The third is an open publishing platform and marketplace, so third-party providers, content providers, service providers can comment. And finally, an initial set of compelling services, which get people to want to go create the account.

Mobikwik is on path to build application which has all these key ingredients in it. In their words:

If you have used Mobikwik you would have noticed that we are already covering point 1 ( alternate payment through Mobikwik balance) and point 4 ( prepaid mobile services). We are on our way to create an open publishing platform and also the big daddy of all : LARGE REACH

So if you have used Mobikwik Balance to recharge your mobile through web or even sms, you know the power of their easy recharges.  And if you think Indian companies are building crappy web products, Mobikwik has sharp answer to that. With their world’s first open mobile recharge API, they support 300+ million prepaid mobiles all across India for all mobile carriers. But that’s only tip of the iceberg. With this Open API you can build a gadget or app for any mobile device or build application for Facebook/Twitter/Orkut etc or even a recharge widget for your website. And believe me, anyone with basic knowledge of HTML can build application with help of Open API. Amazing! So who said Indian startups can’t build world class APIs?

So in coming month don’t be surprised to see few plug-n-play widgets from Mobikwik, which will help us in reducing setup time to less than 5 min or you can stay tune to new features to keep Mobikwik updated. Power of Mobikwik applications as an e-commerce portal lies, not only in its easy of us, but also in its wide applicability in Indian mobile space. Anyone with a mobile connection can use Mobikwik’s offerings. Anyone! The power lies in your hand!

Recently, while talking to Bipin Preet Singh, CEO of Mobikwik.com I got more insight into their plans. It’s not easy to build a startup in India with innovation as a key enabler. But Mobikwik is a different place. I asked him, can India innovate beyond CRBTs & ringtones? Can you really push innovation through operator’s throat, which are not known for innovations? Till date only few VAS provider could sell few services like CRBTs through operators. Then is it really possible to innovate & bring new services to end users via operator independent app store? Mr. Singh replied, “We at Mobikwik are trying to overturn this model by creating an aggregated services platform where we ourselves and others can offer interesting services. The catch is each one of these services do not need to sell in millions each month to be viable. The quality/benefit of services will decide their PULL through internet. Just like the iPhone app store, service providers can innovate as they wish without having to succumb to carrier demands. Imagine if there are 1000 such services offered by independent vendors for their respective target markets! Since pricing can be controlled by service providers ( with Mobikwik keeping a minority share unlike carriers), market would decide what succeeds and what does not. That would bring about telecom 2.0 to India.” Interesting, but not easy!

Among the four key ingredients of successful application, the most powerful, large reach lies in operator’s hand. With the advent of Internet, to some extent you can sell applications directly to end users, but the reach is limited in current scenario. Moreover, according to Gartner’s estimate, mobile users across globe will pay more than $6.2billion to buy ‘mobile applications’, operators aren’t going to leave any stone unturned to capture piece of application market share. Operators have two key ingredients in their hand apart from large reach- first is ‘billing’ and second ‘subscriber’s information’. Though you can have alternate payment gateways available like Mobikwik’s EBS, there is no substitute for other. So overall, we do believe that there lies an opportunity in building operator independent app store, we need to answer few questions in this regard:

All given, we believe in open platform of mobile application development in India. Rather than sticking it to operators or even to devices, we believe that there are greater benefits in neutral store model. Open stores are ideal place for innovation. Rather than selling or innovating those applications which are selling like hot cakes, let service providers innovate & consumers decide. It’s a win-win deal for all.

Tags : Operator Independent Application Store
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