By Shailendra Bhatnagar, Bloomberg
New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s largest wireless carrier, said it will offer high-speed mobile-phone services in India as soon as airwaves are available for supporting features such as live video streaming.
“We’ve been ready for one and a half years,” Bharti Chairman Sunil Mittal told reporters in New Delhi on 21 May. “We’ll be keen to experiment and start these services at the earliest whenever the government is ready.”
Spectrum, or airwaves carrying wireless calls, is scarce in India and the quality of voice services is declining as 6 million new users on average sign-up for mobile-phone services each month. India’s defense and telecommunications ministries are in talks aimed at releasing airwaves currently held by the nation’s military, defense minister A.K. Antony said.
Former telecommunications minister Dayanidhi Maran said on 25 April he planned to allow overseas carriers to bid for additional airwaves, which would lower expansion costs and foster competition.
Indian mobile-phone providers, who offer the world’s cheapest local mobile call rates -- as low as 1 cent to 2 cents a minute -- oppose the plan saying there’s enough competition and a bidding war may result in a rise in tariffs.
Enough for All
Bharti won’t oppose overseas telecommunications companies from bidding, Mittal said today. The South Asian nation, now the world’s fastest-growing wireless market, must ensure that enough airwaves are available to all carriers, he said.
“The existing operators are serving the country in a dramatic way,” Mittal said. “I really don’t know what purpose will be served by bringing in more operators. The government only needs to ensure that existing operators, who have invested billions of dollars, have adequate spectrum to serve rural areas.”
Antony declined to comment on the possibility of airwaves being released for civilian use by July, the month set by Maran. The former minister wanted to distribute 42.5 megahertz of airwaves vacated by the armed forces to carriers such as Bharti and Reliance Communications Ltd. to enable them to offer services that would fetch higher profits.
Shares of Bharti were down Rs7.55, or 0.9%, to 845.1 on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Maran resigned on 13 May following differences within his party. A. Raja is the new telecommunications and information technology minister.