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The IRCTC is coming up with SMS Ticket—a new Internetfree technology—that will enable travellers to book tickets by sending an SMS to IRCTC and the ticket fare shall be directly debited by the telecom operator
Monalisa, ENN

It’s a step that will enable you to book your railway ticket from anywhere and anytime – while travelling or holidaying, in between meetings or even when you have no access to the Internet – as long as you have a handset. A simple text message sent from your  mobile phone will get your railway ticket booked and free you from the hassles of endless wait at jammed websites or hung systems. The confirmation of the ticket will come via a text message on your mobile and the ticket fare shall be included in your monthly mobile bill.

The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) – a PSU under the Ministry of Railways – has recently announced that  it’s developing a new technology called SMS Tickets. Once operational, the new technology will enable a prospective traveller with a new option to book railway ticket by sending text messages to IRCTC and the payment for the ticket will be directly debited by the telecom operator. This option will completely eliminate the payment gateways of going through websites of banks which are considered to be the biggest reason for delays in the current e-ticket booking system.

“SMS Tickets technology is in the pipeline. The idea is to make booking of railway tickets a simple and hassle-free process which can be
done by anyone at anytime,” says R K Tandon, Managing Director, IRCTC. “Heavy congestion at websites and connectivity issues are the two driving factors that forced us to devise this new technology. Not everyone has access to the Internet or web-enabled handsets  and smartphones. We are aiming to divert the traffic from the Internet to SMS and to make the entire process completely Internet-free,” he adds.

Number game
Currently IRCTC is one of the largest e-Commerce sites in the world, with sales of around 4.5 lakh tickets per day, making transactions
worth `35-40 crore per day. “Almost 30,000- 35,000 reservations are done every hour. Such huge numbers indicate that too many people are using the website for reservation of tickets and we need multiple outlets other than website and reservation counters,” informs Tandon.

“For each reservation, the prospective traveller spends on an average 3.5 minutes on the Internet, which includes train enquiry,  checking availability status & fares and making payment. A sizeable portion of this time is spent on the payment gateway of banks, which leads to congestion of traffic,” adds Tandon. Officials estimate if the delay due to payment gateways are eliminated, the number of tickets booked every minute can almost double.

There are some concerns regarding security issues, as the step of eliminating banks from the payment loop might compromise on the authenticity of travellers. Though most leading banks  refused to comment on this, Tandon negates such specualtions: “As for security issues, I don’t see it as a problem. This is because all details of travellers shall be recorded with the IRCTC at the time of registration.”

The mechanism

Explaining the mechanism behind this new technology, Vasu from the IT department of  IRCTC says, “Totally, seven Application Interfaces (APIs) are needed for the system to get  operational. Out of the seven, five have beendeveloped and integrated, while two are in the process of customisation.”

The rail booking of tickets via mobile is done  in a step-by-step manner. “It isn’t as simple as it sounds. There is a back office behind this,” explains Tandon. “To avail the facility, you first need to become a registered member of the IRCTC website. This will generate a unique user ID and password for all future transactions. In the first SMS, the user enters the login ID and password. This SMS goes to the IRCTC server, which cross checks whether the person is an authentic, registered IRCTC member or not,” he says. The second SMS is sent to enquire about the availability of trains on the date of travel, mentioning the source and destination stations, and class of travel, etc. Once the SMS of train availability confirmation comes, the prospective traveller sends the third SMS for booking the ticket by selecting the train and mentioning the name of passengers, their age, and other details. The fourth SMS is for making payment, which offers a host of options. Payment  through telecom operators shall soon be added as an option that the traveller can avail.

“The system is expected to get operational by the end of this month. The mood of telecom operators has been quite upbeat about this new technology. Definitely there shall be first-mover advantage for the ones who want to partner with us in the beginning. As of now, Airtel, Aircel and the Pyro Group are working with us on this new system,” says Tandon. However, telecom operators refused to comment on this news at this stage.

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