The game is shifting in the world of mobile phone service operators, as revenue opportunities move from voice calls and text messages to value-added services, content and software that would make customers use their handsets more.
Bharti Airtel Ltd rang the bell to support the new world on Thursday when it launched a Rs 200-crore Airtel Innovation Fund that would back startups in content and software development.
Industry experts see this as a strategic move. “The future battle in telecom will be fought on innovation and it is very visionary of Airtel to have entered into the funding space,” said Mahesh Uppal, a leading industry analyst.
“The purpose is to give opportunities to budding entrepreneurs having a vision to build business based on innovation and also to promote developments in content and software applications in areas such as mobile commerce, value-added services, lifestyle and location-based services,” said Manoj Kohli, Bharti Airtel’s chief executive officer.
Bharti ushers into India a global trend in which players Nokia Qualcomm, Ericsson, Japan’s DoCoMo, Vodafone and Motorola have captive venture funds or participate jointly with others to support startups.
Reliance Communications runs a ‘Reliance Developer Programme’ since 2002 that is aimed at creating a developer community. RCom assists small content developers with tools and help them develop it into commercial ideas.
With more than 30 crore mobile subscribers already, and handsets getting smarter by the day, India offers a playground for value-added services. For mobile operators, investing in connected startups is an opportunity for lucrative partnerships and also a way to snoop on trends that could aid — or hurt — their competitiveness.
“I think it is a great step by Bharti as support of a great telecom company with focussed funding offer makes it a great recipe for true telecom innovation,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, managing director of One97 Communciations, a Noida-based mobile content development company.