The other day I was discussing “Rural VAS business in India” with couple of my friends, and one of my friend argued that information about the right prices is always available with the farmers and making market price information available on mobile is little if not of no value addition to the farmer.
Another friend of mine Ashok, An IIT KGP graduate pointed out that he used to go sell vegetables in Jaipur city and he never knew what the correct price was, there it was one of the problem’s Rural VAS is trying to solve, making information easily accessible to farmer because information put’s him in a power position and helps him get more profit for all the hard work he has put into.
Innovations in Rural VAS:
It is quite amusing to see how mobile phone has already changed and still continues to change the lives in third world countries for better,be it Grameen phone in Bangladesh providing employment and connectivity to millions of Individuals in that country or the socially evolved banking solution,Sente in Uganda. (If you haven’t already seen Jan Chipchase’s video of his presentation in TED conference, do watch it.)
Sente of Uganda makes a very interesting innovations in the rural VAS space, where in people buy mobile recharge coupons and transfer money calling up the destined villages mobile kiosk and giving them the topup code. Sente brings the basic banking services to people where even the banking services are not available and to the people who probably are not eligible to have a bank account and the greatest thing is it is completely community evolved solution and not controlled by any organization.
IBM’s HSTP is probably the most important innovation in this space as it could solve the basic barrier rural VAS could encounter, illiteracy. Most of the rural population in Emerging and third world markets can’t read and write and that’s where IBM’s talk to web technology fit’s in,a person can switch on a phone and just use IVR access all the information and perform banking too.
Challenges in Rural VAS:
Apart from effective implementation of IVR and making services affordable, local information aggregation makes up a serious challenge in rural VAS. Reuters,the UK based news service company is already working on this problem with it’s pilot project “Reueter’s Market light” where in Reuters is providing commodity prices,crop and weather data to Maharashtra farmers on their mobile phones and it costs them only 60 rupees a month, recently launched Nokia’s life tools services also get’s local information from Reuter’s market light.
Future of Rural VAS:
Though rural telecom market went un-adressed until now with all of the attention going to latest VAS advances like Mobile TV, Multimedia streaming, Mobile social networking and location based services,it is getting lot of attention lately especially with the increasing mobile penetration in the country and with a major part of the growth contributed by the rural India.
With Urban and semi-ruban markets getting saturated,rural India is for sure the only place to grow and decreasing TCO (total cost of ownership)for mobile phones (less than 5USD) makes Rural VAS is one of the next big things and apart from making big bucks,businesses can add a great amount of value addition by providing farmers the right kind of information and banking solutions.
As Iqbal Quadir of GrameenPhone quotes it “The Cure to Poverty Is Connectivity and Individual Empowerment” and Rural VAS is just going to do that, empowering the farmers and the poor, making mobile phone more of an investment for them than an expenditure.