US-based software developer shows how to use WhatsApp on Jio feature phones

(This story originally appeared inon Jan 22, 2018)

NEW DELHI:based software developer Peter Krumins thought his website was under a cyberattack fromwhen he saw an unprecedented bump in traffic. He soon figured that a large number of Indians, particularly those using Jio feature phones in Bihar, had discovered a way to useon their basic mobiles using a web service called Browserling which he had designed for web developers to test their products on various browsers.

Now, the young San Jose based developer and entrepreneur, along with two others from Guwahati, is thinking of ways to make the messaging app work on feature phones, and has set up a paywall for users willing to pay to use Browserling for WhatsApp in India. The India experience went viral in Nigeria, Cameroon and Ukraine. Krumins is now building similar web services for these countries. WhatsApp declined comment.

Last November, videos from various tech vloggers in India surfaced on, offering tutorials on how to use WhatsApp on Jio phones. This involved using a smartphone with basic feature phones to access the web version of the messaging app.

Among these was a video onchannel called Indian Jugaad Tech, which has 1.9 million views currently. Even though the “jugaad” didn’t solve the problem of using WhatsApp without a smartphone, traffic to Krumins website got so overwhelming, that he began blocking Indian IPs last year. He later realised these were legitimate requests and not a “sophisticated personal attack.”

Number of users paying to use the service is still low. Wrishiraj Kaushik, who runs a software company in Assam, and has been helping Krumins from India along with a colleague, says while they get about 50,000 hits a day on the website, only 50-odd end up paying to use the service.

“We realised that people need a standalone app,” says Kaushik. This is what they are focusing on now. “We will still run WhatsApp on our servers. It won’t be a stand-alone application,” says Krumins.

India is the Facebook owned messaging app’s biggest market. WhatsApp has over 200 million monthly active users in the country. “Traffic from India is now 60% of all traffic. This traffic is mostlyusers,” Krumins told TOI over email. Bihar is at the top, with roughly 50% of the traffic. Maharashtra and Karnataka come second and third,” Kaushik told TOI.