Airtel has launched a new marketing platform, which seems to be quite similar in principle to the Internet.org philosophy. With the Airtel Zero, customers can access apps of participating app developers at zero data charges. Needless to say, like the Reliance-Facebook partnership on internet.org, Airtel Zero too violates net neutrality which promises to provided a level playing field for all internet data. It seems like a clear move to compete with Reliance Communications on offering free internet, at the expense of net neutrality of course.

Airtel plans to take the toll-free voice calling approach here, by offering users free access to an app. The data charges for using those apps, will be borne by the said app’s developer. Airtel hasn’t yet released a list of apps which it has partnered with for Airtel Zero program.

According to Medianama, online retailer Flipkart has already signed up for the Airtel Zero program. This means that which ever app developer or business is able to pay Airtel the necessary data charges, will get a priority over competing apps in that department.

Airtel is calling it a marketing platform for big marketers as well as small time app developers to “make parts or their entire mobile app free for customers – thus reviving interest of dormant customers, attracting new potential users and increasing retention”.

According to Srini Gopalan, director of consumer business at Bharti Airtel, Airtel Zero contributes to the government’s ‘Make In India’ vision by providing a platform for a lot of small businesses to reach out to their end consumers. Of course, these app devs will have to pay for your data charges incurred while using their app.

“The results of our pilot program indicate that ‘Airtel Zero’ can deliver the same results as traditional digital marketing channels at 1/3rd the cost – thus underscoring the immense value it can deliver for developers across,” said Gopalan.

As we had noted with the Internet.org, these freebies offered to users come at a cost. Free internet sounds tempting, but you need to be aware that you are only getting free access to services/apps which have struck a deal with the telcos. App developers and services who are flush with funds, will not find it an issue to pay telcos for data charges incurred by users. But this can leave app developers, specially start ups, who cannot afford Airtel or Reliance’s data rates at a definite disadvantage.

Publish date: April 7, 2015 11:20 am| Modified date: April 7, 2015 11:26 am

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