CB technology has a huge growth potential for all stakeholders, but they need to device a viable revenue model soon


Natural disasters are inevitable. However, citizens can certainly be alerted in the wake of any impending disaster-be it natural or man-made-to prevent its worst impact. There are proven technologies available to send messages reliably to citizens. Most governments across the world-including the US, Japan, South Korea, and even our neighbor Sri Lanka-already have an elaborate early warning system. Others are creating new ones with the use of advanced communication technologies for early warning.

India, with over 110 crore population, has experienced the worst of all kinds of natural and man-made disasters-tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, floods, bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, poisonous gas leakages, etc. Doesn’t India require a reliable, early warning system to alert citizens and avert the worst impact of such disasters on lives, properties, and health? Certainly it does, and for introducing such an early warning system, cell broadcast (CB) technology is the foremost important option.

If detecting disasters before they create mayhem and cause worst impact is the first step, sending reliable early warning messages in advance or on real-time basis is the next important step in an efficient disaster management. This is where the cell broadcast center (CBC), with its dedicated bandwidth, helps the government entities like National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) as well as NGOs to send emergency alerts to citizens to prepare themselves.
Reliability as the Key
CB transmits early warning messages and other emergency information with a 100% guarantee of message delivery to alert citizens in an affected area within a maximum time of two minutes-regardless of the size of the area or the subscriber’s telecom operator. In the current scenario, SMSes are not a reliable source as they sometimes get delivered late, or do not get delivered during festive seasons or during the peak talktime hours.

CB is an integrated open system that allows disaster management officials to transmit early warning messages to citizens’ mobile phones. In cell broadcasting, the technology facilitates to push out a single text or binary message to multiple mobile phones within an entire ‘cell area’ without any lag time. Unlike in SMS-which poses problems of lag times and network congestion-the dedicated bandwidth of the CB technology ensures reliable delivery of warning messages immediately.

CB, which was originally designed to offer location based services, is a standard feature on GSM networks as well as IS95 CDMA. Praveen Nallapothula, CEO, TeleDNA Communications says, “CB technology is a one-to-many broadcast service as opposed to SMS which is a one-to-one service. In order to send information using CB, you do not require mobile numbers; rather, you choose a geography and send information which will reach all mobiles in that geography. This is like a radio or TV broadcast-the information or content is available in different channels all the time; however, only those subscribers who can subscribe and tune to this channel can see the content.”

TeleDNA has developed a CB system that is capable of offering advanced features like integrated geographical information system, local as well geo-redundant systems for high availability, and various interfaces toward external applications. TeleDNA cell broadcast center has been working with different infrastructure vendor equipments like Ericsson, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens, etc, which require a lot of effort to integrate and test. It is a carrier grade platform that interfaces with the mobile network elements such as BSCs, RNC, MSC over standard interfaces (3GPP or 3GPP2). The platform can scale from 1 TPS to 2,000 TPS. With in-built GIS server, TeleDNA CB allows system users to easily define a geographical area on the fly and broadcast messages.

Debasis Chatterji, CEO, Netxcell says, “While SMSes are sent from a mobile to another mobile, cell broadcast messages are sent from mobile or a system to all mobiles under a cell circle or a tower circle. Broadcast messages can reach all mobiles under a tower or the entire country in a matter of seconds. In a cellular network 64,000 broadcast channels are possible, thereby enabling many services that use the basic broadcast technology.” He further says, “The technology is used for getting economical and political updates. It can also be used by communities for discussions on sports, movies, etc. Apart from this, the technology can potentially be used for classifieds to sell or buy anything. Currently, Prasar Bharti (Doordarshan) uses CB to send information on vaccinations, public welfare activities.” Netxcell offers a Cell Broadcast Center, designed for the creation and simultaneous delivery of CB messages to multiple users of mobile networks

CB messages can be broadcast across the entire network coverage area or within specific segments or cells. The system can function in GSM and UMTS. Apart from emergency broadcast messages, CB technology can be used much more efficiently than the existing SMS technology for sending subscription based infotainment and entertainment messages. Different channels can be created for different types of content, just like in TV, and let subscribers tune in to view that information. CB technology can also play a crucial role in geographical advertisement applications.

Gaining Momentum
Nallapothula says, “CB technology usage is still at nascent stages in most developed countries. However, they are viewing CB worldwide as a valuable emergency notification tool, since disaster preparedness and recovery cost billions of dollars annually to countries around the globe. In a recent study comparing public warning systems, it was shown that cell broadcast was the most valuable tool for emergency warnings.” The US government has already implemented early warning system based on CB technology and it is proving to be very reliable and efficient in sending early warnings. In many markets, CB technology has not been used for any commercial applications; while is a few countries, it is being used for broadcasting emergency messages to the masses like flood warnings, traffic forecasts, missing kids information, etc, by public safety agencies.

Recently, the US Parliament passed a WARN Act in which CB technology has been selected for emergency communication with public like presidential alerts, etc. In fact, one of the acts recently passed in the US encourages carriers to participate in the government emergency warnings sent out to cell phones. In the recent years, South Korea and Japan launched the first nationwide system. Customers of Japan’s NTT DOCOMO, for instance, can opt for a free offering called Area Mail Disaster Information Service. The United Nations and the World Health Organization are working on deploying this technology to keep pace with global communications initiatives. International Telecommunications Union and other international governing bodies are already developing global harmonization standards for emergency cell broadcast warnings. Apart from the US, Japan, and South Korea, our neighbor Sri Lanka has also introduced an early warning system based on CB technology in January 2009. Maldives and many other governments across the world are actively considering the use of this technology for a reliable, early warning system. In Africa, CB is used for social service messaging, while in Israel it is used for merchandising.

CB technology can also play a crucial role in geographical advertisement applications as it is geo scalable and geo-specific. The Dutch Government has done a series of trials with CB as a media channel for communication with citizens in cases of emergency. The EU project, CHORIST, for public warning has recently given a proof of concept demonstration and presentation at the Catalonia Civil Protection Center in Barcelona to a broad audience of selected European authorities.


Market Potential

As the technology has a very big revenue potential for all stakeholders, India will see a variety of commercial applications along with emergency applications being launched by the end of 2010. It can be an additional revenue stream for operators who are already facing the decline of ARPU in mobile services revenue. Nallapothula says, “Operators and VAS players can look at using CB as a medium to open and offer a wide variety of innovative services to all subscribers in a network, instantly and based on location, all without jeopardising subscribers’ privacy or overloading the network. Typical examples would be pay-per-click geographical advertisements, flash news alerts, promotional messages, and more importantly some emergency communication messages.”

In its basic form, CB is relatively less expensive, simple to deploy and requires little bandwidth to broadcast messages. Recent evidence suggests that successful business models can be developed for CB, which means interest in CB as a launch pad for profitable commercial services may re-awaken. The successful services, however, would be based on interactive models rather than simple, one-way cell broadcast. This also depends on how innovatively subscribers are allowed to opt for selected broadcast channels without bombarding them with some unwanted data. Chatterji says, “India’s private radio broadcasting industry exhibits a strong growth potential. Radio broadcasting revenues are growing at 29% per annum. Growth in this sector is being propelled by the increasing listener base, favorable demographics, opportunities in phase III expansion, political advertising, increasing advertising by small local brands, and introduction of new performance measurement tools.”

Viable Model Eluding?
For any technology to be successfully deployed, the ecosystem should find a viable revenue model. According to Nallapothula of TeleDNA, “One of the biggest stumbling blocks for CB has been finding a viable business model. Even in other countries, its nature as a broadcast medium has made it difficult to work out ways of squeezing revenue out of users, since information is sent out in a blanket fashion without registering to whom it is delivered. In some countries, classified services have been introduced by getting users to generate and pay for their own content. The carrier had to come up with its own solution to allow users to broadcast messages by simply sending an SMS. Countries like South Korea and Japan are using CB to promote video streaming services to millions of subscribers.”

CB as a technology provides significant opportunity to operators in terms of differentiation, segmentation and revenue. Major part of the location applications could be implemented with little investment. Network operators can look at a small portion of fee that can be collected from the subscribers and also location based advertisements which can be potential revenue models. Chatterji observes that the revenue models differ from country to country, since it all depends on the number of towers and the number of subscribers.

For instance, India can leverage on the number of subscribers and on towers since we are concentrated and numbers speak in our case which is reflective of managed services and revenue sharing kind of business models that exist. Whereas, Africa is more spread out in terms of base transceiver station (BTS) whereby, the number of BTS are more than the population concentration; therefore minimum guarantee plus revenue sharing might work there. VAS players feel that the revenue sharing model, wherein VAS companies are paid more than 50% is to be considered in India, unlike the traditional means wherein VAS companies are paid as low as 5% in some cases. Most European and Asian companies have revenue sharing against favoring the VAS companies.

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