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Brewing India on the VAS Map

The Indian telephony market is booming like never before. The penetration of mobile phones is dripping down to the grassroots level, Puneet Mehrotra tells more.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2007 19:59 IST
Puneet Mehrotra

"Give me telephony, I will give you growth"

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose never said that but he did promise freedom for blood. Different times, different voices. In the fields, in the cities, in the megapolis, in the villages, from the remotest corner of India to the national capital, the peasant, the professional, the banker, the taxiwala, the subziwala, the common man, the not so common man, all in a common voice echoing the voice of telephony catalyzing the growth of our nation like never before.

The Indian telephony market is booming like never before. The penetration of mobile phones is dripping down to the grassroots level. The government in combination with the industry do exactly that with the universal services obligation fund (USO) created by the government to subsidize roll out of rural telephony by telecom operators. The USO fund administration would cover all the 5.7 lakh villages. So the bottom line is whether or not electricity or maybe even sunshine has reached the deepest corners of India, the cellular phone certainly has.

Satisfaction is a relative term. Not satisfied with just voice telephony, the dynamically changing market consumers are increasingly expecting more from their devices. That's creating a demand for new services, applications, and better voice and data capabilities to better suit consumer needs in a converged wireless-Internet world. So comes the great value added services (VAS) market.

According to a survey carried in a news magazine recently more than 50% cellphone users play games on mobiles, while more than 70% download ringtones. Sex and religion is what sells in real life, on reel and on the cell phone too. Steamy wallpapers along with smiling Gods seem high on the download list. So games, ringtones, wallpapers and other random downloads all in all this create a huge industry in itself called the VAS industry. Now if that sounded trivial I am sure Rs 82 billion (Rs 8,200 crore) surely won't. That's the size of the industry estimated by ASSOCHAM by March 2008 growing at the rate of 65%. VAS requires an environment for development and India is one of the hottest destinations in the world for this.


The Environment for Development of VAS

There are several applications development environments namely Symbian, J2ME (JAVA), Python Flash Lite, Net Compact, BREW, Qtopia to name a few. Of these JAVA is a preferred for an all-around solution with low entry barriers and BREW rules the CDMA market.


BREW versus JAVA

From the commercial point of view the development of mobile applications is primarily based on two platforms, Java or Brew. Java, a product of Sun Microsystems has been fairly ubiquitous in cell phones in India and has been written about for ages. On the other hand BREW, Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, is a creation of Qualcomm, and of late has been gaining ground with developers in the country.

Just as GSM and CDMA debate rages on without any conclusion so can a debate between Java and BREW. Different view points, different conclusions. If quantity means winners then Java is the clear winner because it has a clear lead over BREW in terms of numbers. Also current and expected future carrier and OEM support will insure that Java sustains its leadership position. While BREW is present in 30 + countries today, with over 65+ BREW solution customers, 45+ commercial BREW device partners, the market share for J2ME phones is bigger.
Overall J2ME (JAVA) is a superb platform with a huge cost saving with almost no entry and testing costs but numbers and openness don't always mean commercial viability. That's where the BREW advantage comes in and is especially relevant for a country like India in which VAS industry is experiencing phenomenal growth. The ideal situation for an application developer is to recover his costs and get a decent return on his investment. Having been there for years Java most developers are already familiar with. BREW is an environment getting increasing acceptance by serious developers in India. The most recent acceptance of BREW environment by Mauj, one of the largest VAS companies in India proves the point.

The Brew Advantage for India

When the largest operator in India, Reliance is CDMA based BREW does start making business sense for application developers. Also worth mentioning here are BSNL and MTNL.

Qualcomm, leading developer and innovator of advanced wireless technologies and data solutions, have highlighted India as a future hub for mobile development on its BREW platform last year. Using BREW a content development company here in India has potential buyers across the globe and can therefore maximize his revenue from a global customer base. In others words develop in India and market to the world. Made in New Delhi, sold in New York.

The biggest games company in the world, Electronic Arts uses BREW. In India 40% revenue of one of the biggest games company, Indiagames.com comes from BREW.

On the social front especially in India where there is a huge emphasis on rural telephony, rural VAS and social responsibility, BREW benefits the underserved communities in India through innovative BREW public service application in one of five areas: healthcare, education, public safety, governance and the environment. If that sounds clichéd consider the case of one of the biggest IT companies in India TCS that was the winner of the Wireless Reach BREW Application Funding Program, the program that challenges developers to create socially useful applications.

One of the biggest advantages for the Indian developers using BREW is the support the parent organization, Qualcomm, provides to aid development. It obviously eyes a part of the pie, but from a business perspective such support makes a lot of sense that is simply missing in other environments. A BREW developer testing laboratory in Mumbai, an annual BREW conference, awards, workshops besides the much spoken about BREW ecosystem provide much benefit to the developers.

The BREW ecosystem is worth mentioning because its one of the only kind of ecosystems existing in the development environment. BREW Ecosystem consist of deliveryOne, uione and QPoint. BREW also offers BREW Gaming, BREW Locate, BREW BrandXtend and BREW Express which help operators deliver services such as gaming, LBS and branded content faster and better. From an entrepreneurial point of view the BREW ensures the commercial viability of an enterprise by getting a return on investment on the development costs. Simply put the ecosystem provides a fertile ground for development, implementation and selling the application which no other environment so far seems to provide.

The Last Word

As revenues in VAS sky rocket so will the battle of development environments. Or rather adoption of newer environments. Last week it was Mauj that got on to the BREW bandwagon. India's largest game maker, Indiagames is already on it. On the Java front it has been there for ages and worth mentioning is that it has been used for ages. It has the sheer power of numbers will perhaps have the numbers for a long time to come. Any good developed market must let multiple technologies decide the market dynamics to benefit the consumer to the maximum. That's where BREW fits in. It provides the Indian developer with a choice to develop locally and sell globally.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at www.cyberzest.com and manages www.thebusinessedition.com you can email him on puneet@cyberzest.com