Currently, BPL Mobile enjoys a subscriber base of 2.3 million spread across 209 cities, in the markets of Mumbai, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Goa. The network features the unique design – the Qualnet, Camel Phase 2 Intelligent Network (IN) platform and GPRS-provided services such as Multimedia messaging (MMS), mobile browsing and java-based games amongst others. As per industry reports, BPL Mobile added 60,839 new net users in July, when it was down from 61,163 net new users in June.
This time around, BPL Mobile is in the news for some other reason. The cellular service provider has completed its nine years of operations and is looking optimistic about the road ahead. To its credit, the company has been rated as the best mobile service provider in the latest nationwide survey conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC) across GSM & CDMA service providers. Another recent report by AC Nielson–ORG Marg, pronounced BPL Mobile was amongst the most trusted telecom brands in the country.
Deliberating over the period of collection and consolidation, Kunal Ramteke (Marketing Controller, BPL Mobile) states, “The initial period marked business acquisition, wherein we concentrated purely on the areas that we operated in and built our subscriber base by offering quality service. BPL mobile was then pitched as a productivity tool, rather than a lifestyle tool or a necessity or an everyday tool. The communication revolved around efficiency of a high net worth individual, on account of a cellular service such as BPL. After we consolidated our hold over the market, we turned our attention to relationship building, wherein we cultivated an interaction with our existing customers. We pursued our strategy of customer asset management, whereby we held on to our existing customer base and cultivated positive word of mouth. We have developed our interaction with customers through direct mailers, voice mails and SMS. If there are new offerings on the platter or new tariff rates, we get through to our customers through these mediums.”
BPL has not advertised much for itself in the recent past. Any particular reasons for that? Ramteke explains, “It’s a strategic decision that BPL Mobile has arrived at. Players like Airtel and Hutch have a national footprint, which is why, television-centric advertising works for them. We are operating in few circles, such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa and Tamil Nadu and it makes a lot more sense for us to focus on local mediums such as radio or outdoor. This is not to say that we have completely shunned television. We advertise on regional channels in the south, and I don’t think that there are any serious grievances about us not being on the national channels. Practically speaking, it would cost me a lot to advertise on STAR and Sony, and why should I, if I am getting the required mileage from the already existing mediums?”
How would Ramteke label BPL’s success in a single sentence? He answers, “Interact consistently with the customer, and re-innovate constantly. The cellular market has always been a dynamic one, with new leaps in technology and new players, but we have managed to stand our ground despite competition. We focus on our key proposition of providing quality service, and it goes a long way in countering competition of any kind.”
Is mobile marketing contributing in a big way to BPL’s revenues? He answers, “Mobile marketing has just taken a first step in India. While this medium provides a steady one-to-one mode of communication with the customer and most certainly, it would be noticed that it could be proved intrusive to the users if over-used. Filtering is absolutely essential in the prowess of mobile marketing. It is BPL’s intention to provide genuine information for users (information that can be rendered as useful, rather than a mere sales pitch) and we encourage tie-ups with only those kinds of clients. It’s not our policy to open our database to a whole host of clients, just with the pure purpose of minting money.”
The future does look buoyant, both for BPL and for the telecom industry. As per industry figures, the mobile subscriber base (GSM and CDMA) reached 31.4 million at the end of February 2004, with as many as 1.6 million subscribers added in February. According to provisional forecasts, cellular connections will reach 56 million by the end of 2004 – up by 96% from 2003, and 130 million by 2008. The growth will be mainly be driven by the removal of regulatory hurdles for CDMA-based mobile services (so-called limited mobility) through the adoption of a unified telecom licence that allows them to offer fully mobile services, the reduction in pricing of cellular services, availability of a range of handsets priced at different points, with several below the Rs 3,000 ($ 66)-mark, and the falling cost of cellular infrastructure.