A telecom visionary with over two decades of working in the telecom environment, and a serial entrepreneur, meet Dr. Inderpal Singh Mumick is the Founder and CEO of Kirusa, a provider of telecom and social media solutions in the emerging markets of Africa and Latin America. Prior to Kirusa, Dr. Mumick had co-founded Savera Systems, Murray Hill, NJ, where he was the CEO and CTO. During his tenure, the company successfully developed its sales and marketing strategies and became an innovator in web-based billing and designed billing software for transactions between IP and telecom carriers. The Sunrise Research Project at AT&T Bell Labs, which led to numerous billing initiatives, was pioneered by him.
Dr Mumick spoke to IT News Africa about the shift from voice to data in the telecoms sector, the future of telecoms and ofcourse his company Kirusa, what sets the service they provide apart from their competitors and the plans they have for exploiting the ripe African market.
Tell us something about the genesis of Kirusa.
Founded in 2001, Kirusa is the brainchild of a handful of techno-savvy people from AT&T and Bell Labs and is a global leader in providing telecom and social media solutions. Based in New Jersey, it has a presence in Latin America, Africa, parts of Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. The genesis of Kirusa had a very different mission. It was not intended as an application developer of Voice SMS but as a builder of a robust multimodal application platform. The company’s vision was based on the idea of improving user interfaces for data services on mobile phones. Aware of the inherent limitations of cell phones with their small screens and keypads, Kirusa’s founders knew that mobile phone users could never be as comfortable on their phones as they are on their PC’s. However, Kirusa did believe that the mobile phone experience could be significantly enhanced by incorporating voice into the data applications, by giving users the option of speaking or typing into their phone. This vision was referred to as multimodality—the merging of voice and visual interfaces. This vision led to the creation of Kirusa.
With the apparent shift from voice to data, what do you see as the future of voice in telecommunications?
Over the last few years, we have observed a massive uptake of IP-based services amongst mobile users across the world, with both emerging and developed economies. The purely infrastructure-based telecom model has seen a huge decline in voice revenue. In fact, several telecommunication companies are offering ‘bundled services’ that integrate voice calls, messaging and cloud service. Business models are being redefined keeping in mind the data-centric telecom ecosystem that we inhabit now. It is not to deny that a significant chunk of the populace in markets like Africa relies heavily on voice calls and SMS services because smartphones are yet to penetrate rural sectors significantly. However, cloud connectivity is slowly making its presence felt in the rural economies, and people are adopting services that the new technology offers. Therefore, telecom carriers must consider a more integrated approach while delivering voice services and not shy away from diversification. Profit will accrue if investors redefine voice calls in the face of the shifting trend towards data.
What do you think will be the biggest disruptors in the telecoms sector in 2017?
We cannot expect a uniform disruption across the entire telecom ecosystem because it is made up of myriad subcultures and economies. What emerges as a disruption in developed markets doesn’t meet the same leverage in developing ones. Factors such as the availability of infrastructure, technology, innovation, growth, and requirement are not uniformly scattered across the entire length and breadth of this ecosystem. Developed economies are anticipating the outbreak of IOT revolution with groundbreaking innovations like Amazon Echo and Google Home, whereas emerging markets are gearing for the prospects that 4G technology can offer.
What sets your voice SMS service apart from competitors?
InstaVoice is a companion app to our Voicemail/Missed Call services, launched in partnership with carriers, and runs on both feature and smartphones. The differentiating feature is that InstaVoice offers a unique way for people to do messaging right from the call, for which the source is the telecom carrier. It allows users to receive missed call and voicemail notifications, respond to them in the form of texts, voice or rich media over data. On top of that, the recipient does not need to have InstaVoice installed to receive a missed call or an SMS. This flow of conversations, toggling between the Carrier and Cloud, makes InstaVoice unique. The communication challenges we are looking to solve is fundamentally different from WhatsApp.
Do you have any plans for the expansion of the service in Africa?
InstaVoice has been so far launched in 21 African countries and has gained immense popularity in the Sub-Saharan region. Over 50 million people in Nigeria and more than 15 million people in Ghana are using this service. Recently, the app had reached a remarkable landmark of 100 million active users in the continent. We look forward to continuing the legacy and make a larger presence beyond the Sub-Saharan region and have a range of exciting launches lined up for this year.
Africa has a rapidly emerging telecom market, and the 4G boom is going to intensify the degree of innovation regarding mobile apps and solution. Therefore, we seek to stay rooted in our commitment to provide the most ingenious services that will enrich people’s lives by helping them communicate, entertain and work, regardless of time and space.
By Dean Workman