India’s largest operator Bharti Airtel has launched a new platform that will allow users to access some apps without having to pay related data charges.
The Airtel Zero platform is aimed at app developers and content providers, who will subsidise part or their entire app for users. In addition to attracting new sign ups, the aim is for developers to revive the interest of dormant users as well as retain their existing base.
In its announcement, the operator addressed the ticklish question of net neutrality. “We are excited to launch Airtel Zero as an open and non-discriminatory marketing platform for all developers in India – irrespective of the size of their business,” said Srini Gopalan, director – consumer business, Bharti Airtel (India).
Gopalan also talked up how the new platform is consistent with the Indian government’s digital inclusion strategy, as well as contributing to its Make in India campaign.
However, a spokesperson for the Internet & Mobile Association of India said all apps should be accessible to users on a non-discriminatory basis, according to Economic Times.
“This is not a walled garden; there’s no slow lane or fast lane,” Gopalan responded.
“No bandwidth is allocated whether an app is on Airtel Zero or not and there is no impact on performance of the app,” he added.
Zero-rating apps is a way to introduce new services to users operating within a limited mobile budget. On the other side, the new platform could give small developers a better chance of getting their foot in the door, the operator said.
Airtel has already run a pilot programme that proves the platform can deliver similar results to traditional digital marketing channels at one third the cost, it claims.
The operator expects “a large number of applications” to sign on. No names have been mentioned so far, although there is speculation that leading e-commerce provider Flipkart could join.
It said the sign-up process for developers was straightforward. Firstly, they have to register with Airtel Zero. Next, the operator will publicise apps to users, who can download them for free, even if they have a zero balance on their accounts.
Airtel, which operates in 20 countries in Asia and Africa, did not say when, or if, the new platform would become available outside India.