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BSNL to provide SMS on landline phones

By N. Ravi Kumar

CHENNAI, JAN. 22. Short Messaging Service (SMS) on wired telephones is the next value-added facility proposed by the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited in major cities, including Chennai.

Work on different aspects of the project, including evaluation of software to be installed at the telephone exchanges, has begun. "We are keen on providing our landline subscribers with instruments that can also receive and send e-mails, besides SMS," said K.B. Brahmadathan, Chief General Manager of BSNL Chennai Telephones.

While a few firms in the country import SMS-enabled phones, the number of companies dealing with e-mail compatible instruments is small.

Apart from the issues associated with limited availability of the phones, another aspect that could be a stumbling block in the popularity of SMS on landlines would be the requirement for BSNL subscribers to invest on the instrument.

According to Pradeep Kumar Jain, an entrepreneur in the city who has tied up with a firm in Taiwan for designing the software of an SMS-enabled phone, "the equipment will cost around Rs.2,000 each." He proposes to market the equipment through the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI).

"Considering the cost to the users, we want to introduce a system which is e-mail enabled too. The subscriber will have to otherwise change the instruments if we launch SMS separately," Mr. Brahmadathan said. As per current projections, SMS on BSNL landlines will be introduced by the end of this year.

The good news for landline users, however, is that BSNL will offer SMS free for the first six months. "Later, a nominal fee will be charged," he told The Hindu.

The decision to introduce text messaging from and to landlines is part of BSNL's strategy to maintain its subscriber-base by offering them more value-add on.

The messages can be sent to other mobile phones. Its domination in the segment countrywide - Chennai Telephones has 10 lakh basic service subscribers - has come under pressure, particularly in the wake of the growing popularity of mobile phones. This year, some 50,000 people surrendered their telephones; Chennai Telephones signed on 30,000 new customers.

Text messaging is one of the popular modes of communication among mobile phone users - Chennai is considered the most SMS savvy city by the telecom industry. AirTel, one of the mobile service providers with a subscriber base of 3 lakhs, estimates its SMS traffic at 3 lakh messages daily. "During festivals, it is almost double the figure," company sources said.

In another decision aimed at pleasing the landline users, the Chennai Telephones has decided to issue at free of cost detailed bills listing long distance calls. Recently, it had decided to also furnish details of calls made to numbers beginning with 95.

The detailed bill was being issued on payment of Rs.30 for landline subscribers in the `general' and `economy' categories, while those in the `Super' and `Special' got it free.

The decision against charging anything extra for the detailed bill is being implemented in view of the recent move to fix subscribers to the alternative packages depending on the usage. "While those receiving the details will continue to do so, it will be furnished for others only on request," Mr. Brahmadathan said.

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