Bharti Airtel inks pact with four IT firms

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile operator, has inked pacts with four global IT majors — Alcatel-Lucent owned Mobilitec, Germany-based CoreMedia, US-based Adamind and UK’s Apertio for its service delivery platform (SDP) which it is currently building in collaboration with IBM.

Bharti is investing over $100 million for this delivery platform, which is expected to be fully operational by mid 2008. Once operational, this SDP will enable Airtel able to offer all services related to content, messaging and application through a single platform to all its customers irrespective of whether they use Airtel’s mobile, landline or broadband services, explained Bharti Airtel’s group chief innovation and information officer Jai Menon.

Once the SDP is in place, all content and application developers of Bharti can just plug into it. “This is an open standards platform. Since the platform is common for all mobile, broadband and fixedlines, Bharti and IBM can therefore distribute the content through multiple channels such as SMS, MMS, WAP and Web,” Mr Menon said.

He also added that the management of this platform would be outsourced to IBM. The platform will also enable content providers to test new devices and content services across all services offered by the telco prior to the launch.

“For instance, the tie-up with Google Inc (which was announced on Monday) where we provide customised services such as email, chat and search to our broadband customers will be one of the numerous applications that will integrated on this service delivery platform,” Mr Menon added.

When asked if the company planned to increase its $100 million investment towards building this platform on account of the record subscriber additions over the last couple of months, Mr Menon said that this was a scaleable platform, where payments towards IBM are linked to Bharti’s revenues. “This is an incentive to IBM to expand the platform and not just limit it to our $100 million investment,” he added.

Going forward, all future applications that the company plans to introduce such as mobile money transfer, mobile wallet, third generation services and other value added services will be plugged into this SDP platform. This is because SDP will cover integrated portal, content management, digital rights management, messaging gateway, transcoding systems, and parlay gateway.

“This is where the IT majors come in — Mobilitec will provide content management solutions, digital rights management will be handled by CoreMedia, Adamind will handle the transcoding and the parlay gateway part will be provided by Apertio,” he said. Being an IT platform, the softwares will also enable the company to deliver content and other applications to us in a customised manner as per the capability of their devices they use, he added.

Outlining the details of the project, Mr Menon said that the SDP platform would primarily consist of three major gateways related to content, messaging and application. “The content gateway is expected to be ready by the year end, the application gateway by the first half of 2008, and the messaging gateway is already in place and is working in the Northern India,” he said.

While the IPR of the platform will be the property of Bharti, the company will, however, share the application programmer specifications with all content and application developers. “This will be a big encouragement to our partners who provide us with value added services. Other advantages are that bulk uploading and protection of digital content will also be possible now,” Mr Menon added.

Importantly, for VAS and content providers, this will also be the first instance in the country where reconciliation and settlement process will also be automated. For instance, any VAS provider who has a revenue share agreement with Airtel for the services and content, can now know the exact number of customers — mobile, landline and broadband — using their product, thus eliminating any scope for under declaration.