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Bharti says on track with India 3G rollout

Bharti says on track with India 3G rollout

New Delhi: Bharti Airtel, India’s top mobile phone operator, is on track to roll out 3G wireless services by the end of this year and its chairman was optimistic about the high-margin offering.

The third-generation (3G) services would facilitate faster Internet on mobile phones and help operators grow their data revenue in a market where voice calls account for close to 90% of companies’ revenue.

Bharti won licences this year to provide 3G in 13 of India’s 22 telecoms zones, in an auction which saw bids at much higher levels than expected. Bharti and its peers spent a total of more than $23 billion in acquiring the licences.

A vicious call price war last year amid stiff competition in the 15-player market had sent call prices tumbling as low as 0.4 US cents a minute, hitting telecoms firms’ financials.

“For far too long, this industry has been under severe pressure," Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal told reporters.

“I believe we are entering into a new era in telecommunications," he said, referring to the upcoming 3G services, and expected it to lead to “some margins coming back to the industry".

Bharti has named Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei Technologies as its network equipment partners for 3G and has said it is in talks with other operators for alliances to provide 3G services beyond the 13 zones for which it has licences.

Bharti officials have previously said high bids in the auction would mean that 3G services may not come cheap though they would be competitive in pricing the services. This raises concerns that the premium services would have a slower uptake in a price-sensitive market like India.

Mittal said on Thursday they would ensure that 3G services are “affordable", without elaborating.

Bharti, which now operates in 19 countries across Asia and Africa after its $9 billion African telecoms acquisition this year, also said it had crossed 200 million total customers. Mobile is Bharti’s biggest business but the company also has some fixed-line, broadband and satellite TV customers.

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