Internet in the pocket puts stress on Indian operator's IT
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 Jain.
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 India.
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
"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 Aircel's involvement.
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 month."
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