The net neutrality debate hasn’t quite died down here. After its order, banning differential pricing for websites, TRAI’s latest paper explores zero-rating platforms which are TSP-agnostic.
The latest consultation paper has raised questions whether there can be models to explore free data in India without violating the principles of Net Neutrality. One such app that found mention in TRAI’s latest paper is Gigato, which gives back free data to users in exchange for some usage.
So how does Gigato work? “Gigato is an efficient app service which provides data in MB to customers. We have partners like Faasos, Jabong, Saavn, etc and they can run promotions and give out free data to users based on use cases,” explains Shailesh Nalawadi, CEO and cofounder of Gigato.
Gigato is part of US-based Mavin Co, which is a team of former Google and Microsoft engineers that wants to bring Internet to all. According to Mavin.co’s website, the company supports Net Neutrality and believes in “unrestricted data for unrestricted Internet” for all users.
Gigato is built on Mavin’s technology, wherein the company has tied up with brand partners to run promotions which determine the free data. The app only works on prepaid accounts, and is limited to Android OS in India. According to Google Play, Gigato has close to 100,000 downloads, and the company claims it has returned over 150GB of data on peak days.
Some of the deals a user might see on the app are like this: Use 5MB for Uber and get 10 MB data free or use 20MB data for WhatsApp and get 10 MB data free. In short, the more you use your data, the more your chance of getting some of it back for free.
“We run lots of different pilots: Saavn, Jabong, TrulyMadly. In some cases data is given out for using the app for a certain amount of time, like say 20 minutes of usage will get you some data. We have 20 plus partners for promotions and the data is credited in MBs,” adds Shailesh.
He also points out that when it comes to split between Tier 1 and Tier II cities, what they are seeing is a fairly different usage pattern. “Tier 1 has more WiFi consumption. Tier II has less WiFi, and is more cost conscious. The cost of data is higher in these cities, and it helps our users in economising data choices,” he adds.
According to Nalawadi, Gigato’s app is encouraging the usage of 3G networks, especially when a user is disconnected from WiFi, like say is commuting back home in a bus and thus will help with the app economy. “Our customers are other mobile apps. They pay for the promotions and data. One needs to think about how to boost mobile data usage,” he says.
Of course, the risk with this is some players might be able to afford better deals, and thus could end up killing usage for smaller players. For instance, a bigger company like Uber or Facebook can afford run these kind of ‘free data’ promotions, while a start-up might not be able to do the same.
But Nalawadi argues the app has no operator restrictions and thus in a way is not violating Net neutrality in India. “The data is credited to your account, no matter who the operator is. Plus this free data comes without any restriction and it can be used wherever you want, which is also a key point for net neutrality,” he says.
So does Gigato plan to expand to other countries? Nalawadi says they do, but points out that developing countries are the ones that need more people to come online.
“First wave of consumers who come online are wealthy, it is the second wave which needs most help coming online. Across emerging markets, you’ll see the same sets of issues: Top 5 per cent are online, next wave is the one that can’t afford data,” he argues.
Gigato’s CEO believes zero-rating apps which are TSP agnostic might work. “If you bring to every platform, sure. Free Basics was only on Reliance, if it was across operators, it might have worked,” he says.