“Localization is the key to cracking any market for VAS players”
With mobile phones becoming an integral part of our lives and data showing us the way to move ahead, it is the value-added services (VAS) that keep us engaged wherever we go irrespective of the telecom network one enjoys. BlackNGreen is one of the leading innovators and providers of VAS products and solutions to the top telecom operators across the world. Having headquarters in Dubai and regional offices in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, etc. BlackNGreen spans across over 90 countries. The company’s recent offering, Magic Call, which enables users to change their voice during calls with a tinge of fun and drama, has gone viral with over 3 million downloads and 4-star rating on Google Play Store. Rahul Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO of BlackNGreen, shares with Ramesh Kumar Raja about how VAS market has evolved over the years in India and how telecom companies are driving this trend. Excerpts:
How do you look at the VAS market in India as well as the world? What are the differences you feel between both the markets?
India is a big market with a humongous telecom subscriber base and has registered consistent growth in the past couple of years. Ever rising mobile phone penetration and decline in data costs have further fuelled the internet penetration leading to unprecedented growth in the country that has brought about significant changes in lives of people across all sections of the society, creating more and more business opportunities for MVAS players. However, MVAS players quite at their peak some 10-15 years back erred and faced many challenges at the hands of stringent regulatory guidelines and failed to retain loyalty from evolved customers on their old fashioned services. In the current scenario, although the opportunities for innovative players are abundant, the internet speed still continues to limit the growth of value added services in India. And it’s the same story in markets worldwide.
Having said that, there is no denying the fact that the mobile environment is changing rapidly, not just in India but globally, and the successful MVAS companies are leveraging the opportunity created by the changing mobile landscape and regulations both in India and abroad. Clearly, the move towards 3G/4G, location based services, m-commerce, growth of mobile data and application marketplaces are offering great scopes for innovation and success.
We, at BlackNGreen, have always worked on products that have a global appeal. So, we have not faced any unexpected challenge in catering to any market. But yes, there are different people from diverse cultures who are very particular in their interest and prefer the services in their first language. Therefore, companies must customize products to suit each local market and we’ve done that.
India happens to be a multi-lingual market. Does it cause any problem to the VAS players?
As I said, ‘localization’ is the key to cracking any market. Taking care of the linguistic aspect is imperative, if you want to reach the masses, and it does pose some level of challenge while customizing your product to suit the market – executing deployment, regular testing, strategizing marketing and communication plans – but all those have been made relatively seamless with years of experience of working closely with global partners and their smooth and agile support throughout the journey.
Regulators have reined in telcos especially after a rise in complaints against VAS players. Where do you see this market went wrong in India?
The MVAS players went wrong in responding to the market dynamics. Over a period of time, the interest of the customers and the way they consume services change. In order to keep up with the changing market landscape, the MVAS has to evolve accordingly. We have to constantly assess our user evolution and consumption behavior and accordingly deliver them a valuable experience.
The data network is still not up to the mark even after the mass adoption of 3G and 4G services in India. What’s your view?
It’s true that the average 4G LTE data speed in India has remained static for more than a year at around 6.1 Mbps, which is much lower than developed markets such as the US (16.31 Mbps), UK (23.11 Mbps) and Japan (25.39 Mbps). In fact, our own neighboring countries like Sri Lanka (13.95 Mbps), Pakistan (13.56 Mbps and Myanmar (15.56 Mbps) stand better on this metric.
One possible reason I see behind India’s slower mobile internet speed is the challenge of serving an extremely dense population and the continuous price wars among the telcos. The current pricing and generous amount of data on packs offered by telcos are probably a lot more than what present networks are designed to handle, which spoils a customer’s 4G experience.
Having said that, the costs of accessing the internet is amongst the lowest in the world, which brings in much more digital inclusion to the lowest rungs of society. For India to progress rapidly, bridging this digital divide is most important as this will narrow the knowledge divide and help reduce the economic divide.
Do you think the upcoming 5G is going to be a game changer for VAS services and consumers alike?
Yes, it can be a game changer, but not very soon. The 5G penetration would take a lot of time in terms of implementation and capable handsets to reach a mass segment. It would take at least 5-8 years before 5G starts reaching masses to make any significant impact on the market. And, once it does, it would open up a whole new world for MVAS players and industries, like smart cities, healthcare, entertainment, and virtual reality to offer innovative products and services.
There are lots of talks about Magic Call app. What makes it unique?
Magic Call is unique in its concept, quality and overall delivery that transformed the entire entertainment segment. It enables users to change their voice during calls with a tinge of fun and drama. Built with voice morphing technology, Magic Call allows both the prepaid and postpaid users to modify their voice – speak like a kid or woman or an old age person with an interactive range of background effects. The concept attracted many telecom operators to partner with us, in order to retain their customers and give them a fun experience.
What are the other services being offered by you and what are your future plans?
Our focus is to expand our gaming portfolio rapidly in coming months, with interesting games on all three platforms (IVR, WAP, and APP). We recently launched the app version of Magic Voice called Magic Call. It has already gone viral in India with 3 million downloads. We are going to launch it in other 50 countries in next three months. We’re also looking forward to expanding our presence in at least 20 more countries in 2019.