Datawind, a leading developer of wireless Web access products, has brought to the Indian market a new 17.8-cm (7-inch) netbook dubbed UbiSurfer, for amazing Internet access along with Web browsing. This portable netbook has a Linux OS version too. In a Skype interaction with Vanisha Joseph of LFY, Suneet S Tuli, CEO, Datawind, elaborates on his strategy to win the hearts of the Indian netbook consumers with the Linux version of UbiSurfer.
Q: When and why did Datawind decide to enter the Mobile Internet NetBook market?
A: We launched our first mobile netbook in the UK in September 2009. After the success of our PocketSurfer devices, we wanted to extend our free-usage business model to other platforms, and felt that entry-level netbooks needed an improvement, especially with respect to costs. Thus, we decided to enter the Mobile Internet NetBook market.
Q: Elaborate on the USP of UbiSurfer over other netbooks. Could you elaborate on the hardware specs too?
A: The UbiSurfer uses cloud computing and our patented client/server architecture to deliver the power of a monster server in the palm of your hand. The richer and faster Web experience offered by UbiSurfer is a key USP over other entry-level netbooks. Our primary focus is on cost, and making the cost of both the hardware and the usage affordable for the masses. The use of a modified version of Debian operating system (OS) in the UbiSurfer Linux OS version has helped provide our users with a cost advantage. Bundling in a year of free mobile Internet access with the device provides a very compelling cost proposition. The device uses an ARM9 processor and has an 800 x 480-pixel, 17.8-cm (7-inch) screen.
Q: What is the estimated street price of UbiSurfer?
A: UbiSurfer with a year of free-mobile Internet is priced at only Rs 7,999. The device comes bundled with 30 hours per month of free Internet access for the first full year useable across India. In comparison, at an average price of Rs 500 per month, comparative rates for Internet access would cost Rs 6,000 per year, which is delivered for free on the UbiSurfer. For heavy users, unlimited Internet is available for only Rs 99 per month and each subsequent year of usage is only Rs 999.
Q: Which mobile service provider have you tied up with for the unlimited bandwidth? Is there any upper limit to bandwidth consumption or usage (hours)?
A: We have tied up with Tata Indicom for the service. There are no bandwidth limitations or upper limit, but the free usage and unlimited usage is restricted to our compression/acceleration servers.
Q: Whom should the user get in touch with to renew Internet connection after one year? Will a user face a vendor lock-in wherein he/she will be dependent on Datawind for bandwidth, which in other words means for operating the device, since the device is an Internet device?
A: Customers can pay the network operator directly, or put in their own SIM if they wish – but, in those cases, they’ll be dependent on the rates charged by the operator. In order to take advantage of our free usage and Rs 99 unlimited usage, the customer needs to utilise our compression service and and the SIM pre-embedded in the device.
Q: What gave you the confidence to offer an open source OS for the device? Did you conduct any survey before coming to this decision?
A: We didn’t conduct any systematic study but did conduct an internal survey among our retail partners in the UK, bulk of whom felt that there will be a substantial demand for a Linux OS mobile Internet netbook due to the cost advantage it provides. We were not concerned about perceptions about usability as we felt that open source was just beginning to climb the popularity peak in the developing markets, thus apprehensions were bound to exist. If we could provide the user with uninterrupted Web access at a cheap price, this Linux OS-based UbiSurfer was sure to be a winner.
Q: What advantages does the Linux OS bring to UbiSurfer users?
A: The key advantage of the Linux OS for our consumers is cost. It not only helps them save on the licensing fees but also on the margins added by the manufacturer and channels to bring the device to the customer. Further, the embedded Linux OS gives perfect performance, adaptability and robustness. It gives the user a stable work environment and secure software-running environment. However, more than the open source aspect, it was the cost effectiveness that drove us towards open source and would now drive our users too towards the Linux OS version of UbiSurfer.
Q: Is Datawind contributing to the Linux source code and writing/customising additional applications? If yes, elaborate. What are the applications in the pipeline?
A: Yes, we have contributed to the Linux code and built applications that can be downloaded from our website free of cost. Media player, paint, chess game etc. are some of the applications available for UbiSurfer. Looking ahead, we shall continue to focus on online Web-based applications for the device. Later this year, when we shift to Google Chrome, we hope to work in close association with the community to develop applications for UbiSurfer.
Q: How do you plan to handle the repair and maintenance of these devices? Do you have your own repair centres/ have tied up with someone? In how many cities, are their facilities available?
A: Initially, we will provide support through our customer support centre in Amritsar. Customers would call our toll-free support line for diagnosing the problem. If it can’t be solved over the phone and requires physical repair or replacement, then the customer would be given a Return Material Authorization (RMA). With the RMA, they’ll be able to go to the original store from where they purchased it, for swap. Over time, we plan to tie-up with national repair centres too.
Q: What kind of tech support is being provided for the Linux versions of UbiSurfer?
A: If a user is facing any problem, then he/she can contact DataWind support at the toll-free number 1800-180-2-180. While basic consumer level, end-user support is being provided through this toll-free number, more technical or developmental support is being handled by our research and development engineers in Montreal, Canada.
Q: What is your product strategy to compete with netbooks powered by Linux/open source? How different is your product strategy for UbiSurfer in India compared to global markets?
A: Unfortunately, there are very few Linux-based netbooks left available in the market. We will continue to develop and enhance this platform. The focus on free Internet access will be our key differentiator from other available options in the market.
On a broader note, our strategy is surprisingly similar in other global markets, as in India. But if you go into specifics, we have introduced some modifications to reach out to potential customers. For instance, retail in India is largely unorganised and most customer shy away from purchasing on credit. This is why we have introduced direct sales agents to reach out to them.
Q: How does Datawind see the open source OS-based netbook market globally and in India? What are your growth projections for this market?
A: We believe the open source OS-based netbook market will be driven by large players, with the Google Chrome OS dominating the segment specifically. The entry-level devices in these segments will drive growth globally, crossing millions of units annually over the next few years. In India too, we see a huge demand especially in the tier 2 and tier 3 cities who are still dependant on Internet cafés and eagerly looking for a personal Internet connection that is affordable. The open source version of UbiSurfer provides them that.
Q: What has been Datawind’s marketing strategy, from the time of UbiSurfer’s launch in India to creating interest amidst the right target audience?
A: In order to create broad awareness, we aim to primarily focus on the consumer, with turnkey end-user solutions. To create consumer awareness, we are using TV infomercial and home shopping as the primary marketing strategy. To drive sales, we have collaborated with direct sales agents, independent retailers and e-commerce platforms. Mumbai-based Sunrise Distributors is our main distributor to reach out and create the large network of independent retailers and e-commerce partners. Along with this master plan, we are in talks to zero in on regional sub distributors to penetrate into the tier 2 and tier 3 cities in India.
Q: Are you looking at institutional customers too—like educational institutions or enterprises who want to buy in bulk? If yes, which are the key segments and what would be the value proposition for them?
A: Yes, we are also looking at institutional customers. These will primarily include those industries that have workers in the field. The key value proposition is the low-cost anytime/anywhere Internet connectivity.
Q: What is the feedback so far from the community? Has it led to any product enhancement so far?
A: It is early days, but the feedback has been strong, and you will see additional product enhancements from us this year
|Company Name: Datawind
Indian HQ of Datawind– New Delhi
How many offices – Two in India (Delhi and Amritsar), two in Canada (Toronto and Montreal), one each in USA, London, Germany, Australia and Spain.
Headcount in India and Globally– About 50 to 100 in India and 250 to 500 globally
Year of entry into the Indian market – 2009
Top products – UbiSurfer and Pocket Surfer series
Number of models of UbiSurfer – 2 (WinCE and Linux)
Variations and features-All the features of the two models are same except the operating system: One is Linux based and the other Windows based. We also operate on the GSM and CDMA platform that gives us the advantage of working with all the carriers across India and offer uninterrupted services nationwide
A former correspondent of LFY in the Bangalore region, she’s currently working in Wipro.