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Home / Technology / Go and read this feature on how India’s digital revolution started with missed calls

Go and read this feature on how India’s digital revolution started with missed calls



Leaving a missed call on someone’s phone usually signals you to call them back – but at one point in India it was communication in itself. A new feature by Atul Bhattarai in The rest of the world examines the Indian culture that grew up around unanswered conversations – and the startups that took advantage of it.

In basic terms, an “missed call” means calling a person but hanging up before they can answer. When you hang up without talking, users can send a basic message (“I called”) without being charged in minutes or text messages – like searching for someone without a pager. Bhattarai focuses on ZipDial, a company that turned missed calls into a robust advertising business and a way to experience some of the features of online life without paying for data.

As Bhattarai writes, the use of missed calls to communicate arose due to the high cost of mobile phone data and limited access to high speed internet. Calling long enough to connect someone else’s phone and then hang up or not pick up at the other end avoids being charged for the call. These missed calls can mean a number of things, such as telling a friend that you are on your way or a loved one who knows you are missing them. “The fact that the missed call required only basic numerical skills made them available to the third of India’s illiterate people,” Bhattarai explains.

ZipDial combined the trend of missed calls and existing SMS services into a kind of one-stop-shop for mobile phone owners who wanted basic internet functionality. ZipDial will partner with a brand and set up a hotline that people can call for services such as sports scores or celebrity tweets. All that was needed was to “register” with an unanswered call.

Bhattarai also highlights a proto-Spotify algorithmic playlist service called Kan Khajura, which delivered new music in 15-minute conversations. “Can Khajura’s central appeal was that it could be reached anywhere, anytime, as opposed to radio and television,” Bhattarai writes.

These businesses became unsustainable as mobile data became cheaper, and ZipDial ceased operations in 2016. But Bhattarai claims that the services helped bridge the offline-online gap in a period before ISPs and physical infrastructure took over.

You can read the entire feature on ZipDial’s Empire for missed calls The rest of the world.


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