Just finished reading a very interesting post on “How To Start A VoiceSite With Rs. 1 Lakh” by Veerchand Bothra from Netcore. Bothra writes…

Just finished reading a very interesting post on “How To Start A VoiceSite With Rs. 1 Lakh” by Veerchand Bothra from Netcore. Bothra writes that, apart from content, all one needs is Rs. 65000 ($1625) to acquire an E1 line (with 32 connections), Rs. 8000 ($200) per month to operate it, Rs. 35000 for a server and the open source application Asterisk to run the service. I’d mentioned asterisk earlier here in the context of using it for Voice over Internet Protocol, but there are issues around terminating a VoIP connection in a public service telephone network (PSTN) in India. That issue doesn’t apply to the use of asterisk for a Voice Portal.

Bothra believes that Asterisk is to Voice Portals, what Apache has been to websites. He believes that there’s a critical mass for voice based services now, making STD or local calls is no longer expensive, the billing system has been put into place, and payment mechanisms have evolved as well. A very interesting read, here. Why it interests me is because voice portals have been critical for some VAS players in the market – particularly OnMobile and One97; this has historically been a high margin business, and this revelation, if true, could lead to a commoditization of the voice portal business. I think there will still be one significant issue – that of marketing the service, but imagine what this could do for local and regional voice related services. Mobile currently provides a closed loop – the telco collects the money from the consumer for using these services, so that’s another issue for a service running billing independent of a telco.

What’s your take on this piece – Do you think such voice sites will work? Has Bothra missed out on some of the issues with setting up and running a voice portal? Do let us know

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  1. The most difficult parts of the business have been dismissed in just one sentence – content & marketing.

    It costs less that 100,000 to build a website but a lot more to keep it going and ensure people get there.

    But if someone has access to content that is compelling and brings people to it (which thankfully niether the operators nor the Vas players mentioned have figured out how!) then you have a huge opportunity. The challenge remains… how do you make money?

  2. Marketing comes after the product development and it is a good and well written article to describe the best part that generally developers miss in the industry. Persons would be going for it would not be having high budgets for marketing obviously so they have to be very much focused in their offerings to get some mouth to mouth publicity but it is good to hear.

  3. Ananya Cooper Friday, May 23, 2008

    This is a very informative piece of article.

    Nikhil, the fact remains that inspite of high revenue business (majorly controlled by mobile operators and onmobile/one 97), end users would do more transactions if the end-user-price is reduced. 90%+ prepaid base; of which 90% has less than Rs. 50/- on their prepaid phone. If companies charge 6/7 rupees per minute… what benefit it drives to the end user?

    From reports I have come across… repeat usage on voice is <20%. Take example of activating a hello tune… first you call on IVR… browse selection, take preview and then select… you end up spending over 5 minutes on IVR and paying 35 rupees for a service which is valued at Rs 15 per song…

    Mobstir… I agree to your last concluding sentence.

  4. :-)) kool find!

    in fact i found that you can start free SMS subscription service @ just 8 paisa per SMS and a SMS portal (read as: a short code to reply and have your content for few keywords) for near zero pricing.
    So ,Here we all just scrubbed mantra for killer VAS company. Cheers!

    OOps, I forgot how revenues will come? (Great advertising model ?)

    Rajesh Jain did it big times in Early-Internet-days. He could very well be on his way to create a new paradigm on mobile content business too.

  5. I think you are not considering operator dependencies. Web sites don't need to deal with overbearing ISPs.. OnMobile and One97 and other Indian VAS companies strive not because of their technology (though OnMobile supposedly has a Googlesque engineering team), but because of the relationships they have with operators.

    In another market with more mature operators geared up for seamless 3rd party app integration, who knows?

  6. Sanjay Vijayakumar Monday, May 26, 2008

    Vas Dude was right in the wild guess.

    The operator dependencies are changing and Airtel is building something i hear as the One Platform where they are removing all Vendor Servers from their Network and replacing it with Hosted Servers. Quite simply, an application developer need not worry about E1's and Servers and Operator Connectivity but just go online and with couple of API integration – you should be live on Airtel Network. Ofcourse, this would not happen on the fly but atleast the vision is there and i'm sure more operators would follow suit, just like IBM bagged Voda and Idea after Airtel.

    The Asterisk Server infact costs less than 100,000 and we know that since we think, in India – we would have the largest deployment of Open Source Asterisk on Live Operator Networks handling couple of million calls per month.

    The main point that was left out by Nikhil i guess was the support – To run Asterisk – one needs guts in the A**. Its fun and challenging for the technical guys but for a management guy – this is a nightmare :) – Asterisk can just konk off and the server will go down and no one will have a clue as to why. But consider this – Radio Mirchi has moved away from Costly software and today all their stations RJ's use Servers on Asterisk.

    Voice Platforms on Operators mainly run on SMS Carpet Bombing requesting to call a voice short code for a service – so undoubtedly, it would be hard to market a service on voice – even if you have compelling content. How would you monetize is the big question since operators hold the gate keys.

  7. Nikhil Pahwa Monday, May 26, 2008

    Sanjay – how do the operators hold the gate keys in this case?

  8. I think he means keys to SMS promo bandwidth. We've seen that nothing other than SMS spam really works in attracting users to Voice Portals. I am very curious to know how many calls landed on "5052525". This was probably the longest running TVC on voice short codes I've seen recently, and in the middle of a program (IPL) with a very high TRP rating. (My bet is that conversion rates were pathetic).

  9. Since the voice portal (VP) of a service provider (SP) would have a voice short code by dialing which an end user would connect to such VP, can't the VP SP charge the end user through off deck content charging methods like charging through alternative prepaid cards e.g., ITZ Cash card? Then such SP define how much to charge per minute. For the content, I guess even if the VP SP can host the "free content" can't he reach the rule mobile users?

  10. >>Asterisk can just konk off and the server will go down and no one will have a clue as to why

    Asterisk is open source. Hire good (read howto, here: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/GuerrillaInterviewing3.html) engineers and they will fix it for you! You can't run a technology company without your people knowing ins and outs of what you're selling..

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