Imagine making phone calls for hours without having to pay a penny, even when you do not have an internet connection.
It is possible now due to an ambitious startup with a 23-year-old chief executive that is still in its early days. The catch: you have to listen to advertisements every two minutes.
Even as free voice chats over the Internet using applications like Skype and Viber revolutionise communications, four young engineers from Bangalore — Yashas Shekar, Sandesh E, Vijay Umaluti and Sabari Jagadeesan — have developed a free voice calling service, Freekall, which brings voice over Internet (VoIP) services to those without Internet.
In this service designed for nations like India where hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to the Internet, Freekall is using the power of advertisement and “cloud telephony” that uses Internet-linked computers connected to phones make even landline or mobile phone calls free.
All users have to do is to give a missed call to the Freekall number. They will get a call back from the company’s server and can then dial the number they want to make a call to, much like a trunk call in the good old days (see graphic). While calls are free, callers will have to listen to advertisements in every two-minute interval, unlike the voices of old-world operators.
The service completed its trial run successfully by offering 600,000 calls in five days. It is temporarily suspended but plans to resume next month. The company is in talks with venture capital to boost the business.
Freekall plans to offer a million calls a day and is targeting a revenue of Rs. 185 crore in the first year through advertisements.
However, will this sustain, especially when Freekall will have to pay telecom companies for the huge volume of calls?
“This is a completely new idea. One has to wait and see,” said Jehil Thakkar, media head at consulting firm KPMG.
The entrepreneurs are upbeat.
“We have done our math. There will be two to five million ad slots available every day as people generally talk for at least two minutes in one call,” said Shekar, Freekall’s CEO.
It was more than a year ago Shekar and his school mate Sandesh E left their respective jobs in Godrej and Wipro to start a company that developed web-based applications for small companies. They were later joined by another friend, Vijay Umaluti. They turned their focus towards cloud telephony which eventually led them into forming Freekall. Along the way, Sabari Jagadeesan, who used to help them with programming during weekends, quit his job in Wipro and joined fulltime.
In December they received a seed funding of Rs. 10 lakh from angel investor Ranjit Cherickel, the former head of sales of Nokia Siemens in Africa. “I understand their model. As a product it will succeed in emerging markets. Anything free will do very well in India,” said Cherickel.
The gang of four is currently enthused by the overwhelming user reaction.
These Bangalore lads badly miss their weekend treks and basketball together but at the moment they are happy that their year-long effort now promises to be worth all those small, little sacrifices.