Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, Hike Messenger introduced a new service called Total. The platform lets users send messages and perform a range of functions, including recharging a phone, making payments, viewing live cricket scores and train information, without an active data or Internet connection.
For those unfamiliar with Hike, the company launched back in 2012 and is India's most popular home-grown messaging app with more than 100 million users. In 2017, it became one of the country's "unicorns" — a term that refers to start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. Its high-profile backers include SoftBank and Tencent, which runs China's top messaging app, WeChat. Hike's greatest advantage has been its ability to localize, unlike global technology heavyweights such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which wrestle with the challenges of dealing with dozens of regional languages.
Hike's user numbers are still dwarfed by those of messaging giants like WhatsApp, which is hugely popular in India; about 200 million of WhatsApp's 1 billion global users are in India.
Hike is teaming up with Indian device makers Intex Technologies and Karbonn Mobiles to release new smartphone models with out-of-the-box support for its Total service. The phones, which will cost between 3,500 rupees (about $55) and 5,000 rupees (about $78), will let users simply switch on the new device, log into Hike using a phone number and start using the service immediately.
Hike said it has worked with telecom partners including Aircel, Airtel and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to enable Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology. USSD is a legacy communication protocol that's been in use on GSM networks for many years. It allows for a simple code to be sent in real time, enabling subscribers to perform tasks such as checking available balance or recharging an account. USSD still has many practical uses, particularly in developing markets where 2G networks are still vital. The Indian government, for example, developed its mobile payments app, Bharat Interface for Money, using USSD to support the large population.
Hike really has simplified usage of USSD, and it's hoping to bring many other apps to the platform in the future. Users who would like to go online will also be able to buy data packs from the Total app for as little as 1 rupee. Hike's goal is to lower the cost of Internet access and introduce people to mobile data.
According to Hike, the Total messaging service is targeted at the "next billion people" and users who haven't yet been able to connect to the Internet. Kavin Bharti Mittal, the company's founder and CEO, said Hike's focus is to "simplify the experience for the people who are accessing the Internet for the first time".
Hike's Total service is a meaningful development in India that will introduce more people to a social network experience, as it doesn't need mobile data or other types of Internet connectivity. In addition to allowing users to chat with friends, it will support other services such as digital payments. Total facilitates the digital era in India and furthers the national agenda of financial inclusion as well as socio-economic progress.