Sistema Shyam Plans a Desi WhatsApp
MBuddy to allow CDMA users to do unlimited messaging for just .` 15/month
Jan Koum’s dream of hooking every Indian smartphone user to WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging app that he co-founded, may still be some time away. But a desi variant, currently being developed, could replicate the instant messaging and photo-sharing thrills on sub-.`1,000 handsets and go a long way in getting the lower rungs of society greater access to social media. Christened MBuddy, the WhatsApp variant from CDMA-technology-based telecom operator Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL), will initially allow folks who cannot afford Android devices to do unlimited messaging on their plain vanilla CDMA handsets at .` 15 a month. Sistema Shyam is the Indian arm of Russian conglomerate Sistema. Its chief marketing and sales officer Leonid Musatov told ET that in a few months, the app will be scaled up for photo and audio file-sharing, and will also run on 4G devices subsequently. “Indians are among the heaviest users of SMS and we realised not everyone can afford an Android device that supports WhatsApp. That induced us to develop MBuddy, which would initially allow people at the bottom of the pyramid to savour unlimited instant messaging on basic feature phones and eventually share pictures and audio files, too,” Musatov said. In India, feature phones still dominate the handset market, though sales of smartphones are rising swiftly as manufacturers lower prices. SSTL has partnered with Singapore-based Vocable to develop MBuddy. And it sees the homegrown app evolving into a powerful market expansion engine as it will be positioned as an affordable instant messaging and photo-sharing platform for lowcost CDMA phones, non-Android dual-SIM handsets and 4G devices as well. According to Musatov, the advent of smartphones and overthe-top (OTT) services had taken mobile phone usage to new levels, reflected in the constant evolution of messaging apps for smart devices, but “entry-level customers had got totally left out from the phenomenon”. SSTL is among the few telcos offering pure-play CDMA services under the MTS brand. While there are no immediate plans to make the app GSM-compatible, another company executive said that “MBuddy would soon be scalable to run on 4G LTE networks”.