This article is part of the mSocial Venture series. FocusOne is also the winner of the mBillionth Award for mInclusion.
Telecommunication in a Mountain Country
Not blessed with a very friendly terrain, Nepal has faced several problems over the years in establishing fixed line telecommunication channels. Although a factor that pulls them back, Nepal has become one of the late but fastest adopters of mobile technology. With the entry of the private players like Nepal Telecom (NTC), MNC’s Ncell and UTL into Nepal by 2006, their telecom industry saw a new boom. 2006 saw Nepal’s subscriber base expand by around 150%. With the country’s mobile market growing rapidly, the number of mobile subscribers quickly swept past the fixed line subscriptions in the same year. Ashish Basnet, Founder, FocusOne predicts that mobile services will be successful because 53% of the population has access to mobile phones.
So, where is the focus?
Like its predecessors, Nepal has also recently discovered the possibilities of information services that can be provided to the people using mobile phones. Nepal’s first public mobile service was VTax, an information service that provides details on vehicle tax, implemented by the Nepal Government in partnership with FocusOne, a technology development company in Nepal. Founded in Seoul, Korea in 2004, FocusOne started operation in Nepal in 2006 receiving investment support from investors in Nepal. Offering Value Added Services (VAS) in Nepal, they also operate in Singapore, Korea, China and U.S.Unlike other VAS providers in the market, FocusOne differentiates itself from competition by being the company that purely provides everyday information to the masses. True to that, FocusOne works with 200+ FM stations in Nepal providing them with a platform that enables their mobile presence. According to Ashish, all these FMs stations together receive 15,000- 20,000 responses per day through SMS for their social and commercial services.
One such radio program is UNICEF’s Saathi Sanga Maan Ko Kura (meaning sharing feelings with friends). This 3 year old radio show collects the opinion of the youth on different issues like women rights, child rights etc from different parts of Nepal. Initially, this response was collected via email and call. On recording a low rate of response, Focus One entered the picture to add mobile SMS that resulted in a whooping 30,000 responses in the first month. Since then UNICEF has been using mobile as a medium to get responses for their program. However the higher response for the UNICEF projects is also attributed to their use of toll free numbers. This project also won FocusOne, the mBillionth award for mInclusion. Apart from radio stations, Focus One is also working on an English learning program via mobile with The British Council of Nepal.
The Challenge that stonewalls VAS
Though the country has recognized the potential of Value-Added Services, Nepal’s low literacy levels hinders the complete access of these services to all over SMS. “We believe in each household there could be one literate and he could educate all. We use Roman English – a mix of Nepali and English to send SMS. We have been requesting telecom providers for voice but it hasn’t been activated by the telecom companies yet,” says Ashish.The Focus Road Ahead
While the revenue is generated from the telecom service provider, FocusOne in some cases shares its profit with content provides or invests them in other social projects that require mobile technology, in order make these projects sustainable. While this may be the case with commercial organisations, with International Non-Governmental Organisations like UNICEF, the users are provided these services free of cost and the cost is compensated by UNICEF. With social media usage being only at 35%, FocusOne markets its services through advertisements in the mainstream media.
“In the next few years we see FocusOne as a global technology company going beyond Nepal. We are focusing more on doing work with the Nepal government to start mgovernance in Nepal since the internet access to information currently is only 12-15%,” says Ashish. According to him, the penetration of the telecom industry in Nepal is almost 40%. In the next 2yrs we expect at least 65% penetration in Nepal. VAS is in its initial stage. There is lot to come from the VAS sector. Nepal has always been influenced by India and there are joint ventures from India who are now trying to enter the Nepal market as well.
Want to know more about FocusOne? Take a look at FocusOne’s website