Cell Phones Do Double Duty in India In India, people use cell phones for more than just talking and texting — they're entertainment tools, as well. Partly because broadband Internet access isn't widely available for computers, Indians use their cell phones to download and share music and watch videos — especially swapping MP3s and watching musical numbers from Bollywood movies.
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Cell Phones Do Double Duty in India

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Cell Phones Do Double Duty in India

Cell Phones Do Double Duty in India

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, we're going to be talking about cell phones - how we use them now and how they're going to change in the future.

Americans mostly talk and text with theirs, but in India, the cell phone is an entertainment center. In a country where very few homes have broadband Internet access, the cell phone has become a way to watch videos, to swap music - a lot of things Americans are just beginning to try with a phone.

Here's NPR News Laura Sydell.

LAURA SYDELL: Carter Road, Mumbai, Saturday night - restaurants, cafes and plenty of young middle class people hanging out. In India, there's a great deal to be learned about someone by looking at what's on their cell phone.

Nineteen-year-old Nazak Kazi(ph) loved Salman Khan's film "Partner."

Ms. NAZAK KAZI: I have a clip of "Partner" in my phone. I'm a very good Bollywood fan, so.

SYDELL: In India, phones have flash memory cards as large as two gigabytes; that's room enough for hundreds of songs and video and movie clips. Seventeen-year-old Judaish Malakhani(ph) puts entire movies on his mobile.

Mr. JUDAISH MALAKHANI: If you have a good phone with a good memory, then you can actually put movies on your phone, like full movies.

SYDELL: You watch a full movie on this thing.

Mr. MALAKHANI: Yeah.

SYDELL: Phones in India all have F.M. radios. Arjun Kokur(ph) and Teruna Ashwani(ph) are surprised when I tell them that we don't have that on our phones in the U.S.

Ms. TERUNA ASHWANI: But they don't have radio on their cell phone.

Mr. ARJUN KOKUR: Oh, you don't have radio in your cell? That you can buy from India.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: They laugh at me, they don't understand how an American from a country that's supposed to be so technologically advanced can't get a phone with an F.M. radio. In the U.S., carriers are only just beginning to make it easy to put music and videos on phones. The reason why Indians are so far ahead is that a fast Internet connection for your computer is harder to come by.

According to research firm Economist Intelligence Unit only six million people in India have a broadband connection, but close to 200 million have cell phones.

Shanta Shadir(ph) supports his family by working as a security guard. He doesn't have a computer, but he has a cell phone.

Mr. SHANTA SHADIR (Security Guard): Music we do.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Not a Fool")

SYDELL: Shadir shows me a music video by the English pop band Blue. He says sometimes the family gathers around to watch videos on his cell phone.

Mr. SHADIR: (Foreign language spoken)

SYDELL: Shadir tells me that he tries to keep clean and wholesome videos on his phone so that the whole family can watch them together.

There's an emerging industry of people who are supplying entertainment for cell phone users. MOSH Telecom runs a site where users can download ring tones, video clips and background animation for phones. CEO Menoj Doveney(ph) explains to me that they are now in the midst of producing their own content, a short animated series specifically for mobile phones.

Mr. MENOJ DOVENEY (CEO, MOSH Telecom, India): So here's a squirrel who's trying to, you know, kind of impress a sheep called Laudek(ph).

(Soundbite of short animated series)

SYDELL: Beiru(ph) is the squirrel's name. Doveney says each of the episodes will be less than three minutes. Some people call this snack entertainment.

Mr. DOVENY: Which we believe can be sold as small little mobile films as we call, you know, mobile episode. And we are creating a complete character.

SYDELL: There is such a strong sense that mobile films will take off that film schools are starting to teach students how to make them. Whistling Woods International in Mumbai sponsored a contest with phone-maker Nokia. The results are rough around the edges. The storylines range from short mysteries to travel logs to faux public service messages.

(Soundbite of faux public service message)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

SYDELL: Like on where the taxman stalks a guy who is late paying his taxes.

(Soundbite of faux public service message)

Unidentified Man #2: I know. I know him. Good boy.

SYDELL: Twenty-five-year-old Shishang Khatan(ph) won the contest. He feels it's a really exciting time to be making mobile films because you can experiment.

Mr. SHISHANG KHATAN: No one knows what's going to work. No one knows what's the future. So people are accepting more. They don't mind anything.

SYDELL: But they'd certainly like to make money of those short films. In India where people share unauthorized music and video as easily as they breathe, it may be hard to convince anyone that they should have to pay.

As I stand in a Nokia cell phone store, the manager, Rakish Tivraker(ph) shows me how he can use Bluetooth to beam a song from his phone to someone else's.

So right now, you guys are sharing?

Mr. RAKISH TIVRAKER (Manager, Nokia Store in India): Yeah.

SYDELL: Yeah, how many are - what are you giving him?

Mr. TIVRAKER: I'm giving him a song. This is very popular nowadays, from Ashanti.

SYDELL: Still, with cell phone use in India expected to grow by nearly 50 million users a year, companies are anxious to find a way to make money on mobile entertainment. Analysts say with the introduction of the iPhone, cell phone providers and entertainment companies in the U.S. won't be far behind.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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