SMS: The Underestimated Killer App


Imagining a life without the internet is difficult for most
of us; for one our IQ would appear to drop by a few points without the ability
to Google as often as we do.  The
internet has redefined how we communicate, how we do business, and has given us
instant access to information that significantly improves the quality of our
lives. But the reality is that ‘we’ are just a fraction of the Indian
population. The majority have never logged on to the internet, either because
they don’t have access or because they find traditional modes of internet
access too complicated or inconvenient. Without access to the internet
explosion, they are left in the dark, unaware of vital information and
opportunities that can better their lives.


Interestingly, two thirds of our population is linked via
the mobile network – that’s 800 million mobile users. Of these only 80 million,
or 10%, have access to the internet via their mobile phones; while about 75
million Indians have traditional means of internet access such as desktops and
laptops. This implies that we’ve got about 720 million Indians who have access
to a communication network, but no access to the internet. They are the
-internet dark mobile users’ of India, and access to information from beyond
their immediate world is still an obscure concept to many of them. The one
application that has the potential to link them all to the information explosion
is SMS. Globally 3.5 billion people, which is essentially half of humanity, are
active on SMS.


Indians particularly have had a long standing love affair
with SMS. One out of three is active on SMS, and a quarter of urban Indians are
in a way addicted to entering television contests and voting for reality TV
programs on their mobile phones. In rural India, farmers turn to SMS based
services, to get agricultural market information, actionable pricing form
various buyers, weather and more, all on basic mobile phones. SMS is -the
killer app’ – it beats both the mobile web and downloadable apps hands down as
the preferred mode of communication, in terms of affordability, availability,
ease of use and distribution, because the SMS capability comes inbuilt on every
mobile phone, no matter how basic.


Even among smartphone users, SMS is the most frequently used
mode of interaction. According to a survey by The Nielson Company, a staggering
85% of smartphone users say they have used SMS more than any other application
in the last 30 days.  These users where
based in the United States, a region where data services are far more
prevalent, and where mobile web based applications are extremely interactive.


As an advertising medium; SMS has seen a 5% interaction rate
in India, one that’s far better than print or email advertising. This
interaction rate is expected to increase because of recent TRAI regulations,
which has weeded out unscrupulous players from the market and has explicitly
allowed legitimate players that respect user preference. While SMS has been
used as a marketing tool, a concern that several consumer oriented business
owners have today is about reaching the younger, digitally empowered audience.
With Facebook, Twitter and a host of other online forums, they wonder if SMS is
still the best way to get through to this audience. Surprisingly teens send or
receive about 3000 texts a month, that’s one text every ten minutes. They
prefer SMS because it lets them multitask (42% of them can text blindfolded), it’s
fast, private and fun. Not having to spend on data plans figures much lower on
the list of reasons that they cite for preferring SMS. SMS can also be the
ideal connective tissue to link and enhance all other marketing communication
channels directed at smartphone users. 
The ability to embed links to social media and other online platforms in
an SMS text, coupled with the click to call, and click to open feature on
smartphones, gives you the opportunity to redirect people from an SMS to your
Facebook page or website in an instant.


As for connecting internet dark mobile users, the answer
lies in easy to use, pull based SMS services that allow users a web like
interaction – SMS based platforms that pull information from the good old
internet and convert it into simple SMS texts; a multitude of SMS based apps
driven by keywords that will help users access just about any information they
want; letter links that work much like hyperlinks so that users can text back a
letter corresponding to the section of a webpage that they want to navigate to.
Platforms that are language agnostic and help common people build SMS based
sites, so that customers and acquaintances can access information about them
through SMS. The immediate, concise and unobtrusive nature of SMS makes it one
of the best ways to reach out to audiences in India; its potential has barely
been recognized.



By Manish Maheshwari, Global
Business Head, txtWeb, Intuit

[email protected]


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