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Vernacularization of mVAS: The Indian Challenge

Posted in Value added services and applications by Manas Ganguly on October 2, 2009

Telecom in India is an exciting opportunity. While voice roughly connects 40% of the Indian population, services through mobiles is the next frontier being sighted. However, every frontier has its set of challenges and opportunities. A short note of mVAS vernacularization in India. 


The Indian government sees mobiles as the next big opportunity to engage, empower and interact with its 1.14 billion population. That said while India has been leading subscriber ads and footprint expansion, the mVAS service usage has not been all too great. Indians on an average send 35 SMSs in a month compared to 100 in China and 750 in Phillipines. SMS today is seen as a mass media information delivery channel, being themost effective and timely way to reach out to people for business, economic and social perspective. 

 The differential in multiples is explained by lack of vernacular medium in MVAS and SMSs. Language SMS is available at most in Hindi only. India on the contrary has 22 national languages. On the other hand english literacy in India is only 10%. The next available opportunity is the roll out of 3G services and it is thus imperative that the telecom eco-system in India would need to gear up for content delivery in vernacular for rural penetration.

By COAI estimates, the MVAS industry is going to generate cummulative revenues worth Rs.121,000 crore in the next 5 years. Other industry figures put the estimate at $74 billion by 2013, with off deck downloads contributiong to $1Billion. Toward this then, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Department of Telecomuunication (DoT), Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI), Broadband Wireless Consortium of India (BWCI),  National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), Cenre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (CeWIT) have been working at creating standards amongst the eco-system: Operators, Device manufacturers and Application Providers for effective and efficient roll out of Language based mVAS services in India.

The challenge is making available a standard amongst eco-system (service providers as well as handset manufacturers). The task is thus

  1. To evolve a core system of Indic MVAS/SMS to be implemented uniformly across vendors and service providers
  2. Making SMS services cost effective. Presently India is high on the SMS versus Call costings. Penetration will be a factor of pricing.
  3. Font rendering to make the fonts standard across all handsets
  4. Key pad design challenge
  5. How do legacy handsets which donot have this Indic feature be included in them

Work done so far:The initail stages of work has been very encouraging. Unlike the Turkish and Philippines scripts which have a commonality with Roman alpha numerics or Chinese alphabets which are phonetic (and thereby easier to use), India provides a larger challenge in terms of number of scripts (Devanagri, Bengali, South Indian languages etc) and corresponding transliteration (a solution that needs to exist).

  1. 10 tables for 22 Indian Languages have been made. These may not be perfect, but give a 80% solution to the need of Vernacular SMS. A 100% Lingual text solution is still being worked upon
  2. There are some solutions that exist to graduate Legacy handsets to Indic MVAS/SMS though the solutions are not complete by itself.
  3. The code change in the Indic MVAS takes care of the fact that it uses 152 alphabets instead of 70 that was the prevalent solution earlier.
  4. There are basic two routes for Indic SMS/MVAS: Single Shift Mechanism and Locking Shift Mechanism. Out of this the Locking shift mechanism is more efficient in language styles.

 The scope of work next: The progress so far has been good and encouraging. However, there are challenges in terms of font, key design, legacy handsets support and SMS price normalization.

  1. Font rendering: Bringing all service providers, handset manufacturers and application developers is going to be a key standard platform for rolling out the language mVAS initiative.
  2. Key Pad design: Fitting in more than 100 characters of Indian languages in 12 keys plus the screen with dynamic and intutive strokes without expanding the application footprint  
  3. Inclusion of Legacy handsets: there are 500 million people in India with devices, many of which donot support the language based application. One would need to look at upgrading these people and getting them cconnected to the vernacular application. The delivery process and medium are a blackbox. 
  4. SMS pricing normalization: While India is one of the lowest tariff countries as far as voice is concerned, the SMS to voice Tariffs are not proportionate. More so with the vernacular medium which is 3X the ost of regular services. Regularization of these tariffs will be a must for mass acceptance of this media.
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