Bharti Softbank’s Hike splices SMS, instant messaging

Thomas K. Thomas New Delhi | Updated on November 22, 2017 Published on November 08, 2012

Bharti Softbank (BSB) has entered the global instant messaging segment with the launch of Hike. While there are a number of other players in this segment, BSB’s messaging service allows users to communicate over SMS as well as data networks.

“Given the lack of smartphones and data penetration in the market, the existing instant messaging apps don’t allow one to connect with all your friends given the nature of a closed network. So we asked ourselves – is there an app that combines the real-time, free nature of instant messaging plus the openness and ubiquity of SMS that gives users control of spam? We couldn’t find one, so we built Hike,” Kavin Bharti Mittal, Head of Strategy & New Product Development at Bharti SoftBank told Business Line.

Kavin Mittal is the son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel. He formed the 50:50 venture with Japan’s leading mobile player Softbank last year.

How it works

With Hike, a user can message contacts regardless of whether they have the app installed. Sending messages to another Hike user is free globally. One can also message via SMS friends who don’t have the app installed. The company is giving 100 free SMS every month to message those friends who aren’t on Hike. Friends can reply to these SMS at standard rates and the message comes right back into Hike. A user gets 50 free SMS per month for each friend they have invited to Hike.

There are a plethora of messaging platforms globally such as WhatsApp and Nimbuzz that are agnostic to handsets, operators and operating systems. Then there are also platforms from handset makers such as BlackBerry Messenger, iMessenger from Apple and Samsung’s ChatOn.

But Mittal reckons that the SMS facility on Hike gives BSB an edge over the others. “In countries like India only a few people have smartphones and, therefore, having the ability to combine SMS with instant messaging is a huge differentiator,” he said.

In talks with telcos

BSB is in talks with operators including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to launch this messaging platform on their networks, which could open up monetisation possibilities.

“We want to first reach 10 million users as early as possible. There are four or five ways to monetise this platform but that comes later,” he says.

This is BSB’s third venture. It had earlier acquired a start-up to launch Hoppr, a location-based service where users can find places of interest around them through SMS. There are now nearly a million active users a month on this platform. BSB has also partnered with Yahoo! Japan for a venture that aims to revamp mobile operators’ portals.

For example, Bharti Airtel’s portal Airtel Live is being revamped by BSB-Yahoo! and will be re-launched over the next few months. BSB plans to move into the gaming space as well.


Published on November 08, 2012
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