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WhatsApp’s wake-up call to MTNL, BSNL

columns Updated: Feb 22, 2015 23:07 IST
N Madhavan
N Madhavan
Hindustan Times

Last week came the news that WhatsApp, the popular group messaging service acquired by Facebook, is testing a voice-calling feature for Android users and is set to widen its scope to others.

The integration of Facebook’s own Messenger with this is a question of how and when, not if – more or less.

So you can think of free calls as long as you have a decent 3G or 4G data plan. I have written in the past about how WhatsApp can kill paid voice calls the way it killed SMS. Last week came another study from Nokia Networks that said India’s mobile Internet usage growth peaked at 74% in 2014, with 52% from 3G services.

According to industry research, the mobile Internet base in India will reach 213 million by June this year, up from 173 million at the end of 2014. Morgan Stanley estimated the number to cross 500 million by 2018. Now, what does this breakneck growth mean for state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL)? These two giants seem to be going the way of Air India, celebrating a state of drift as they sink deeper into losses. BSNL and MTNL had run up losses of `3,785 crore and `1,567 crore respectively in just the first six months of the current fiscal year.

I see this as no less than a scam. I am nearly certain that imaginative ways will be thought up for the “revi val” of these companies and taxpayers made to bleed more against the inexorable march of technology.

The WhatsApp development is a loud wake-up call for the government on these two red-faced behemoths.