no cost notification on cell networks, missed calls as a messaging bus

I remember being in college where some people would call someone like their parents with a collect call.  "will you accept a collect call from Dave Ohara. My parents respond no." and, know I want them to call me.  No cost to me, and my parents foot the bill.  I never did this, but it is the idea behind India's use of missed calls on cell networks as a messaging bus.

GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher discusses the idea.

India’s “missed call” mobile ecosystem

Imagine you want to use your cell phone to, say, order take-out food or chat with a friend, but you don’t want to pay for making the call, or the text message. The answer to that ultra-low-cost question is India’s fascinating growth of the “missed call” ecosystem, where callers who aren’t willing to spend on, well, really anything, use the “ring once, hang up” to signal to commerce companies and friends alike on the receiving end that they want to communicate with them.

It’s essentially the poor man’s text message: a free way to nudge another person or company, but which comes in just one flavor. Indian cell phone subscribers, of which there are 900 million accounts, have a monthly average revenue per user of $3, which is rock bottom low for even a developing market.

How big is this?  In India missed calls could be used as a messaging bus from half the users.

While the missed call system is increasingly fodder for entrepreneurs, the phenomenon has been a slight problem for the cell phones companies in India, as the free service seems to make up a significant portion of cellular traffic. According to a study from the Learning Initiatives on Reforms for Network Economies (Lirne) a couple of years ago, over half of Indian cellular subscribers made missed calls to convey a message.

Katie follows up today with a post on the use of missed calls for controlling remote irrigation water pumps.

This week, an Indian site focused on Indian entrepreneurs and startups, profiled a startup called RealTech Systems which has developed an irrigation control system for farmers that uses cell phone networks and missed calls. Essentially a farmer installs the company’s Real Mobile Starter Control product at an irrigation pump, and the device uses a SIM card and a missed call to turn the pump on and off remotely.

The problem, as puts it, is that many farmers have to walk many miles to get to the pumps for their farms, but once they reach the pump sometimes the power to run the irrigation system isn’t available — unreliable power is one of the biggest infrastructure problems throughout much of India. The farmers can use the product to check to see if power in the area is turned on, and then run the irrigation accordingly — from miles away.