Internet in the pocket puts stress on Indian
operator’s IT systems
Ravinder Jain: We outsourced the IT to make the
work for the business
Indian operator Aircel has taken the first steps in an attempt
to boost its share of a highly competitive market by completely
replacing its IT system in a period of just a few months.
The whole of its legacy operations were moved to the new
system, outsourced to Wipro with overall architecture by
Oracle, over a period of just a few weeks.
The aim, says Aircel’s chief information officer
Ravinder Jain, is to build the company’s market
share in value-added services and mobile internet access. "We
have a very firm belief that mobile will be the largest
screen," says Jain.
But that hasn’t been the case so far. Of
India’s 500 million mobile phone customers, only
120 million have internet-capable phones, "and only 12 million
of them actually use more than two minutes a month", complains
Aircel wants to change that. In advance of the completion of
India’s 3G auctions, Aircel has built its 2G
network to have Edge-based internet technology. "We have a
pocket internet strategy," says Jain, who joined the company in
November 2007 after several years with what is now Vodafone
Aircel was already in transition, having begun as a small
regional operator as long ago as 1999, working in just two
districts in India — or "circles" as they are called
It launched in seven new circles in 2007-08, along the
country’s eastern corridor, but then Maxis, the
Malaysian operator that owns 74%, decided Aircel should go
nationwide. Network equipment came from a range of suppliers,
including Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE. Is
Aircel rationalising its supply? Jain won’t say,
but notes that the new circles have ZTE and Huawei kit.
At the time of the decision to expand the management structure
was recast and Jain was hired to run the information
"We started 2008 asking what we need to do. The Indian market
was so cluttered, with eight or nine operators in most areas."
Aircel needed to find some way of differentiating itself. The
company selected value-added services as a well of making
However, it was starting from a low point. Across India, all
operators earned 8-9% of their revenue from value-added
services in 2008, estimates Jain, but Aircel was way behind
this, with just 3-4%.
At the same time it was his job to make the IT as efficient as
possible. "Our platform needed to be ready for it. You
can’t do this with a classic IT set up," he says.
"We took a big decision to outsource the IT."
The company implemented a number of Oracle applications,
enhanced a year later with a scalable and personalised content
delivery platform for new revenue generation. "Oracle is all
over my IT architecture," he smiles — apart from
billing, which is Comverse. At the same time Wipro was given
the task of implementing the system.
"We outsourced the IT to make the IT work for the business,"
says Jain. The rate of change that Aircel wanted to achieve was
so fast that it couldn’t have been handled
internally, he accepts. "We wanted to make one partner
responsible and to share the entire business. We wanted to
transfer the IT from the legacy system end to end." The
intention was that "not the smallest element" of the legacy IT
system should be kept.
And it was all done in 18 months. The project started in May
2008 and was completed in December 2009 — a couple of
months later than planned, but still a smooth transition.
"We migrated the legacy business to a new stack. The old
systems were very disparate, as they had evolved over 10
years." At the same time Aircel needed "to change the mindset"
of the 100 IT staff, who were being moved to Wipro as part of
the deal. That was "a challenge", he says.
One of Aircel’s districts, or circles, was moved
to the new IT stack in February 2009. "We went right from
business study to operation in seven or eight months." Another
56 days later, a total of eight circles were moved across "in
one go", recalls Jain. Now the system has been rolled out to
the rest of the company.
"We have a revenue share with Wipro as part of the IT
outsourcing," says Jain. "Wipro makes all the
Though all Aircel’s IT staff moved to Wipro as
part of the deal, he then hired "people with project management
skills — a different skill set" to run
How did the cost compare with doing it in-house? "I would not
look at the cost but at the business," Jain retorts. "We grew
much faster than if I was doing it on my own." Better to look
at the business results: "We closed 2009 with 9% of revenue
from value-added business," he says. "It doubled in one
At the same time the number of customers has increased, from
eight million at the end of 2007 to 30 million two years later.
By early 2010 it was running at 32 million "and we are adding
2.5 million a month", he says: "We have tripled in two
And Aircel wants to continue to pursue "the pocket internet",
he says: "We have a very firm belief that the mobile will
become the largest screen in years to come. Many people will
use their first internet on the mobile phone rather than the
There is a long way to go, as even with Aircel’s
increased share of the mobile internet market in India, only
around 15% of its customers are using their mobiles for net
access "and that may not be too often".
At the moment the company is trying to encourage customers to
used value-added services in a gentle way — by
offering what Jain calls "all you can eat" ringback tones for a
flat rate, for example. "You can change your tones as many
times as you wish in a day or a month," to accord with your
changing mood, for instance. "What mood do you want to reflect
— a happy mood, and so on?"
Introduction of this service "was a game changer", but its
spread has had an impact on the network and the IT systems, he
admits. "If the consumer changes their ringback tone several
times a day, that affects the general volume of data." The
capacity of the system and the process flow was resized to
handle the volume. "The existing platform was getting
The new system can handle 800,000 orders a day, he says, but
usage is running at 100,000 at the moment — so there
is capacity available. "The volume has doubled in a
Ringback tones are sold either at a flat rate per month or for
three or seven days at a time. "You can also buy internet
access for just three days," he adds: at prices around $0.50 a
But this is just the first stage. "We believe in democratising
the entire value-added services system," he says. "We want to
let people use as much as they can." GTB