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BW Businessworld

'GST Rollout Has Made Keeping Close Tab On Mobile Spends Important'

Though the telecom industry hails GST as an iconic reform, the burden of increased mobile phone bills directly affects the end consumers

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With the GST rollout, the tax incidence on telecom services has increased from 15 to 18 per cent. This has led to an increase in popularity of talk-time and data management apps. Cheolwon Lee, CEO of Balance Hero in an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld speaks about the impact of GST on telecom services, ways to counter the increase in the price of telecom services, consumer privacy and more:

How has GST impacted telecom services?

Telecom services, until GST happened, attracted 15 per cent service tax. Under GST, now they attract a tax rate of 18 percent.

Under India's new unified taxation regime, if you are a post-paid subscriber currently paying Rs 1,000, you'll be charged at least Rs 30 extra every month. If you are a pre-paid subscriber, you can expect your talk-time to lessen. For instance, if you recharge your phone with a Rs 100 prepaid voucher, you will get a talk time worth Rs 82, which was Rs 85 earlier.

Though the telecom industry hails GST as an iconic reform, the burden of increased mobile phone bills directly affects the end consumers. While consumers and telecom operators both are trying to figure out the mechanics of GST and how it affects them, it is important now more than ever to keep a close tab on mobile spends and effectively manage one’s data consumption. 

With GST, telecom services have become dearer. So, how should a consumer counter this?

Below are some tips that consumers can adopt to avoid unnecessary expenditure on mobile bills and save more data.

1. Use a prepaid balance checking App: There are a few apps which provide a quick and easy way to monitor your mobile data balance. They can even block unwanted apps individually that eat up data in the background. To control mobile data costs, you can check your data monitoring app to know how much data you are using over Wi-Fi and how much on your mobile connection. Apps like True Balance gives you regular alerts on low balance & expiry alerts of data pack, main balance, call pack and rate cutter. Moreover, one can view the all-time deductions history and plan the month in advance.

2. Collect rewards from Utility Apps: Use an app which allows users to collect rewards for using games or utility apps which can be converted to wallet points. Often these apps give points for referring the app to others as well. These wallet points can be used to recharge balance or data.

3. Manual app update: Both iOS and Android allow you to update your apps automatically, but you can also do it according to your requirements. So the best way to save your mobile data is to turn off this feature and update your apps in the Wi-Fi Zone. 

4. Use offline Google maps: Google Maps has this amazing feature to let you save a map area of 120,000 square kilometres on your smartphone. The offline feature is available on both iOS and Android, and has recently rolled out. So this can be really useful if you use maps regularly to get around. 

5. Disable auto-download on WhatsApp: Most WhatsApp users who're part of some or the other group receive multiple forwards in the form of pictures, videos and audio. Whenever you receive these items you also incur data costs. Fortunately, you can choose to disable auto-downloads for all, none or a certain content type whenever you receive a multimedia message. You should ideally enable video and audio auto-downloads only when the phone's connected to Wi-Fi. 

How the idea of this mobile balance management app evolved?

Before Balance Hero, I was the CEO of Access Mobile from 2006 till 2014, focused on VAS (Value Added Services) for Telecommunications Company in Asian countries including India.

Access Mobile, headquartered in Seoul, has been providing apps – Magic SMS, Picture SMS, SMARTEXT and other VAS offerings to telecom players in India (Idea, Tata, Aircel, and Vodafone), Philippines and Indonesia.

While it was a successful business and is in existence even now, the formal rise of smartphones started in 2008-09, and the mobile ecosystem changed completely. We tried out many new ideas and experimented with them within Access Mobile, but in 2014, we decided to launch a very different product called True Balance under a brand new legal entity called Balance Hero.

We researched various markets and items and concluded followings.

-India is the market for (1) size, (2) growth rate, (3) early stage market

-Balance check needs to be digitalized for smartphone era, especially for prepaid dual phone users.

I am still a shareholder in Access Mobile, but am running Balance Hero as full-time CEO.

How was been the response to the app in India?

The response to our app has been tremendous. True Balance app has passed 40 million downloads in 2017. It has ranked as the top Lifestyle app at the Google Play Store. In 2016, it was selected as Google Play Store's App Starter Kit (a set of the most popular apps in the country). The app also has one of the highest retention rates compared to other applications in the market.

Q5. With increasing expenditure by middle class on mobile tariffs and increasing internet penetration in India, what according to you is the future of such apps?

India is the second biggest market for smartphone users and has already surpassed 300mn users in 2016.It has also even surpassed the US market in terms of active unique smartphone users. This data speaks volumes for the scale of the Indian market it provides for any player in the mobile-connected ecosystem.

A growing user base, increasing number of mobile internet users and favorable government policies have also helped in making India’s business operating environment conducive for start-ups.

We see a bright future for the mobile revolution in India. So India will remain an important pillar of our growth story as it proved to be so far. 

Why should one download the app when all the information that the app provides like Main balance remaining, Rate cutter expiry, Data, Call pack remaining expiry, and Promo balance remaining & expiry are already provided by the telecom service provider?

While other telecom service providers do provide basic services, True balance provides an edge on recommending the best data packs for a user by tracking their data spends. With heated competition in the market after the roll out of Jio services, users are confused on what is the best data pack they should opt for. This is where True Balance comes in. Since it is primarily a data balance management app, it can give users more insightful knowledge on their data spends and accordingly suggest the best data pack to choose from customized to their usage patterns. The app has also made tracking data usage more convenient as users don’t have to dial the USSD code on the dial pad physically.

Unique features on True balance app like Balance Alert allows users to know how much data has been consumed, how much money is left and how many days for the next recharge by sounding off alerts when a user hits certain points in data usage, allowing users to recharge their phones in a timely and convenient manner.

One-click Recharge enables users to recharge packs at the click of a button which will be available on the transaction screen of the app. The feature also shares recommendation based data packs depending upon he users consumption amount and apps used most.

True balance app is also compatible with both single & dual SIM phones. Dual SIM prevalence in the India market is primarily driven by the telecom company price war and connectivity issues.

The app allows users to earn reward points through successful installation of the app by one’s referrals. The app also allows users to collect rewards from installing games or utility apps which can be converted to wallet points. These wallet points can be used to recharge balance or data.

How do you make your app more consumers friendly? Also, with increasing internet access in rural India, how do you plan to make your app popular with the rural masses?

Apart from the basic features, features like being able to check the mobile balance without internet connection, checking mobile and data balance for both SIMS by just sliding down the notification bar, the alarm screen which causes an alert when the user hits certain points in data usage, a superior UI, and UX designs compared to other similar apps and one touch quick recharge feature makes our app quite user friendly. Users don’t have to manually call to check their validity and remaining data/call pack any longer.

We also lately introduced extremely easy & quick friend recharge feature, which can be utilized by True Balance users to recharge for feature phone users. 

How secure is your app? How do you maintain consumer privacy? 

India is vulnerable to hacking and unauthorized use due to the prevalent use of dual SIMs and rooting. Because of this, the mobile environment in India tends to instigate unauthorized use. Moreover, SIM cards are very cheap and easy to get in India because of fierce competition between telecom companies to attract more subscribers. So it’s common for a user to have about 3-4 SIM cards.

The company blocks app hacking and maintains consumer privacy in advance by raising barriers for devices in the routing state. Moreover, True Balance is also using cutting edge techniques such as network analysis and early detection of trouble using user behavior analysis. The company closely observes whether the app is tampered with, monitor the behavior of fraudulent users, or conduct pattern analysis. When a problem arises, an alert is generated via e-mail, SMS, and collaboration tools facilitating the company to take proper actions accordingly. 

Also, since it’s common for users to have more than 2 SIM cards, users can acquire illegal rewards very easily by rotating multiple SIM cards on a device. To prevent this at the very beginning of the account creation, True Balance basically limits to an initial subscription with respect to the information of a device, Android OS, and SIM card, negating old users to create an account.

Consumers often complain of slow working of mobile phone due to mal-functioning apps. So, how does your app ensure smooth running on every mobile set? 

First of all, we have managed to minimize our app size under 10mb to accommodate Indian user’s storage & memory issues. We consistently purchase and conduct tests on new &popular phones to assure quality. Moreover, we have hired 20 nationwide testers in each and every circle. We also use various crash tools to automatically check the quality of fabric, firebase and so on.

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