Watching the latest flick on your mobile may still be some months away. But you can catch up with favourite comic strips or read those illustrated tales of Amar Chitra Katha, as phone operators are offering more features to lift their bottomlines.
A wide range of ring tones, caller ring back tones, video games, imagery, jokes and specific information services are some of the value-added services (VAS) that these phone operators are offering to boost the average revenues per user - better known as ARPU (pronounced 'Aarpoos') in industry jargon.
Getting today's youth on the move to use their mobile phones more, and enticing them to download games, wallpapers, animated graphics and a multitude of specially purposed content is the motto.
"Amar Chitra Katha has been in existence for years. We thought of providing the same to our customers on phone, though not in the same format," said Harit Nagpal, Vodafone's director for marketing and new business. Now one can read them while travelling in the metro, bus or during a break in office," Nagpal told IANS.
According to a recent report of auditing major PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the market for VAS is expected to grow from 10 percent of the operator's revenue to 18 percent by 2010. Currently, it is estimated at around Rs.5,000 crore and is set to grow to Rs 20,000 crore by 2010, according to the PwC report.
Worldwide spending on mobile VAS, including mobile music, phone payments and advertising, is expected to touch $55.6 billion by 2011, the report added.
With Vodafone's latest offering, a user can not only access and read the comics but also download games, wallpapers, animated graphics interchange format (GIF) files and a slew of other content exclusively on the Vodafone Network. "This feature on Vodafone should add to our revenues," Nagpal said, adding: "However, every service cannot get you 20 per cent penetration."
While ringtones and wallpaper downloads are still popular among youth, other services like comic strips are still quite new and do not have too many takers yet.
Agrees Aircel's chief operating officer Gurdeep Singh: "Aircel's focus and plank for success is VAS. It's like 'explore your world of possibilities'."
Operators hope to increase it to about 25 percent in the next 7-10 years as quality of content improves and the number of offerings increases. Telecom operators on their part are getting innovative with services to increase non-voice revenue streams.
All the major telecom operators from Airtel to Idea have introduced a service that enables a customer to find a job through SMS and have received an overwhelming response. "Subscription services like finding a job through SMS has touched 10 percent penetration, which means 10 million customers," a leading VAS service provider, Telenity Mobile's vice-president (sales for Asia Pacific Region) Yogesh Bijlani told IANS.
"VAS contributed about Rs.6,000 crore to the telecom operators' total revenues in 2008-09. The appetite for VAS services at Rs.30 per month has grown considerably even in the smaller cities," Bijlani added.
Another trend-setting service that has recently been launched is "location-based service", which enables one to trace the location of their friends and relatives through an SMS. Currently, available only with BSNL, Telenity is in advanced talks with other telecom operators to offer the same service through them.
However, global consulting firm KPMG is not very optimistic about the latest VAS offerings, saying there is "nothing extraordinary" in it. "New services will certainly be launched with or without 3G (third generation mobile telephony), but I have not seen any killer services so far," KPMG communications director Jaideep Ghosh said. "They are not extraordinary."
(Pupul Dutta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )