Home-grown messaging platform Hike today announced the launch of a new service ‘Total’ that allows Android phone users to chat, read news, book train tickets, make payments and transfer money without mobile data.
The Tencent and SoftBank-backed WhatsApp rival, which is betting on people without internet access to boost its user base beyond 100 million, has preloaded the ‘Total’ service onto inexpensive phones of Intex and Karbonn. Total pops up as soon as the setting up of the Android device is done for the first time, Hike Messenger CEO Kavin Mittal said.
Explaining how the new service works, he said Total sits deep on the operating system and uses USSD tech present in every GSM phone for years to deliver content without the need for 3G/4G data. “USSD is nothing but that *121#” that users dial on phone to check balance, recharge and get small loans, he said. “It’s actually incredible how most of the world doesn’t know about this.”
Total is build on USSD technology. “So what we do is, we have taken all our services and we put them deeply at the operating system there. So if the operating system tells us, ‘Hey we don’t have data’, what we do is, we automatically fall back to this new thing that we built, that allows our services to run on USSD,” he said. While this service allows messaging, access to news, sports scores and astrology, it cannot transfer picture which can be done only through use of data. For this, Hike has partnered with major carriers like Airtel, Vodafone, Aircel, and BSNL to make low-cost data packs available on Total, with prices starting at Re 1 for 20 MB at 4G speeds.
Mittal said buyers of certain models of Intex and Karbonn phones would get Rs 200 in the Hike Wallet on signing up into Total. This money in the Wallet, which can be replenished, can be used for purchasing mobile data plans or sending money to friends, once KYC process is completed. The Total app will prompt users to buy data when performing data-driven functions like viewing media-rich news with photos or sending pictures or videos.
Mittal said Hike is talking to other mobile phone manufacturers for embedding Total on their operating system. Also, other carriers including Reliance Jio are being spoken to expand data recharge options, he said. He said over the last five years, Hike has moved from a simple messaging application to a content platform and now to a payment platform. Just six months into the launch of payment wallet and “we are doing over 10 million transaction per month,” he said. Hike is now one-stop-shop for news, cricket scores, kabaddi scores, recharge, p2p and money transfer. Taxi booking is coming soon, he said.
He said out of 1.25-1.3 billion people in India, there are about 1.1 billion mobile SIM cards that are owned by about 700 million unique people. Out of that 700 million people, about 300-350 million people are on feature phones and around 375-400 million have smartphones. Inside this, around 350 million people are ‘monthly active internet users’ who go on the internet at least once a month. Of these, about 200 210 million are daily active users, 80 per cent of whom are really hard-core users using 6-7 GB a month.
While in next few years more people would be online, research has found that the process of first users to come online is a bit complicated, beginning with acquiring a smartphone, buying a data pack, signing in to an operating system like Google by creating an email and opening Playstore to download more apps. “You got to download 6-7 apps, sign in to them, then have a data pack and then you finally get to the sweetspot of the internet. It’s a good 50-60 steps,” Mittal said.
“So we are launching something called ‘Total’. It’s a new brand – Total- built by Hike, which is a set of services that are deeply embedded on the Android operating system. That will effectively solve all of this,” he said.
All the Hike services like messaging, News, scores and recharge are embedded “very, very deeply at the OS (operating system) level on Android itself,” he said. “We have made them single click sign on. So when you sign into Total, you sign in to all these services making the experience simple.” Kavin Mittal is the son of telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal of Bharti Airtel.