As the market for mobile telephony peaks in cities, telecom companies are increasingly looking to add new customers from rural areas with services and handsets designed to address their specific needs.
Market leader Bharti Airtel Ltd. on Friday announced a joint venture with Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited, or IFFCO, that will offer value added services such as voice messages on mandi prices and weather forecasts amongst others. The JV, named IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd., will offer handsets bundled with an Airtel connection.
Bharti Group Chairman Sunil Mittal said that Airtel will become the top rural telecom brand in the next two to three years and the joint venture will harness the power of telecom to add value to the farm sector.
"About 55 million farmers are members of IFFCO and we expect a bulk of them to use our services," Sanjay Kapoor, President, Mobility, Bharti Airtel told Hindustan Times.
According to leading advisory firm KPMG’s estimates, there were about 50 million rural subscribers in India at the end of 2007 and the number is set to increase up to 240-250 million by 2017.
CDMA service provider Tata Teleservices has been running a pilot of its application called Fishermen Friend in Tamil Nadu. The application allows fishermen to know of weather conditions, fish and market prices in their local language.
Tata has another ongoing pilot project in association with the Multi Commodity Exchange of India and the National Bulk Handling Corporation (NBFC) called F2F (farm to folk) that allows farmers as well as users of Tata Indicom to check the existing and future trading prices of potatoes.
“By knowing the existing prices of commodities, farmers can negotiate better with the middlemen,” said Rajeev Narayanan of Tata Teleservices.
Farmers can even stock their products with the NBHC if they discover that trading prices of commodities would be higher in future. The application is expected to commercially go live in the next three to four months.
“These are community oriented projects but as a commercial enterprise we see an opportunity in the rural market,” Narayanan said.
Last year, Reliance Communications introduced a service that allows users to access commodity prices. The facility is available at internet enabled Reliance handsets where the lowest priced in the category is available for Rs 1,600.
Handset giant Nokia has handsets priced less than Rs 2,000 that sport features such as a multi-phonebook that allows up to five people to maintain separate phonebooks on the same handset.