First, the details. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Hike launched a product called ‘Total, built by Hike’. Total is a version of the Android operating system, which the company claims to have “redefined for the next billion users”. In company speak, the app essentially would allow first-time smartphone users to “use the internet without data”. Hike has partnered with three telecom companies (Airtel, Aircel and BSNL) and two of the major low-end smartphone manufacturers (Karbonn and Intex) for Total’s rollout.

At the press conference in New Delhi, Kavin Bharti Mittal, Hike founder & CEO said, “What we did was to take all of Hike’s features—messaging, content and services—and strip it down to less than an MB and embed it on the Android operating system.” In simple words, a first-time smartphone user, using Total, could chat, check cricket scores, read the news, make payments and check horoscopes, among other things. All this, on a lightweight, modified Android.

Mittal didn’t stop at that. Taking a more altruistic, good-for-the-world, good-for-the-company line, he said, Hike’s corporate purpose is to bring India online. Millions of people who are unfamiliar with the internet. To solve for that, Total will become the first point of contact for any first-time smartphone user, by eliminating data packs, email logins with a single login via phone number. All of this without data. At least that’s what the company claims.

Photo courtesy: Hike

So how will Total work? Essentially telecom, where it will use one of telecom’s oldest communications protocols, the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and a funky smartphone-based user interface on top of it. Hike calls this the “Universal Transfer Protocol” or UTP, a technology it has patented. Mittal said, “What we realised was that nearly 300 million users in India still use USSD: to recharge their phones, to check their balances etc.” As surprising as it might sound, Mittal said that nearly 45% of those using USSD were smartphone users. The reasons behind USSD, he further added, was because it offered smart compression for better speeds and that its transmission was reliable and accurate.

The company also said that users will be able to purchase sachet data packs starting at Re 1. To quote Mittal: “Our goal is to bring India online and online means data so we’ve also made it extremely simple to buy data packs right contextually inside the OS itself. We’ve worked closely with telcos on special data packs for these phones starting as low as Re 1 to give people a taste of what it feels like.” Starting March this year, the Intex and Karbonn smartphones, with Total in them, will be launched. Users who buy the devices will get Rs 200 worth data, to start their online journey.

300 million

The number of monthly USSD users in India, as per Kavin Bharti Mittal

Well, all of this sounds interesting, and to borrow a much-used cliche, innovative.

AUTHOR

Venkat Ananth

Venkat is currently in his tenth year in journalism. Prior to The Ken, he was Deputy Content Editor at Mint as part of the newspaper’s digital team. He also wrote in-depth features on the business of sport for the newspaper. His earlier assignments include Yahoo! (as a columnist) and the Hindustan Times, where he began his career. Born in Mumbai, Venkat holds a Bachelor of Mass Media (Journalism) degree from SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai and a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London. He currently resides in New Delhi, where he moved nearly five years ago.

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