Bharti aims 3G in all licensed zones by March

Bharti aims 3G in all licensed zones by March

Bangalore: Bharti Airtel aims to launch 3G wireless services across all its 13 telecoms zones in India by March and expects the premium offering to help stabilise its average revenue per user (ARPU).

The No. 1 mobile operator in India, which spent $2.7 billion in 2010 to buy third-generation (3G) radio airwaves in an auction, on Monday launched the services in southern Karnataka state.

The company hopes to cover 40 cities by March, and expand the services to 1,500 cities and towns by 2012, a senior company official said.

3G services facilitate faster Internet on mobile phones and let customers use services such as video calls. The services are expected to boost mobile carriers´ data revenue in a market where low-margin voice calls account for close to 90% of the total revenue.

Voice call prices plunged in India after a price war in the fiercely competitive Indian mobile market of 15 carriers. Bharti’s monthly ARPU in India in the September quarter fell 20% from a year earlier to 202 ($4.4).

“We expect the ARPUs to definitely stabilise to a much greater extent than they would have otherwise, for the very simple reason that there would be an explosion in terms of new products and services on the non-voice side," Atul Bindal, Bharti’s president for mobile services said.

No single carrier in India managed to get 3G airwaves in all of India’s 22 zones in last year’s auction and companies are in talks with rivals to forge alliances to offer the services beyond the zones they got licences for.

Bindal said Bharti’s talks with other operators for 3G alliances outside the firm’s 13 licensed zones were in “active closure" stage, but declined to name the possible partners.

Its rivals Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices have started 3G services in some telecoms zones, while Vodafone Essar has said it plans to launch the services during the current quarter that ends in March.

Bharti had in 2010 selected Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Huawei Technologies as its network equipment partners for 3G services.

Bharti operates mobile services in 19 countries across Asia and Africa and is the world’s fifth-largest wireless carrier by subscribers.