Bharti Airtel confident on 3G timeline: CEO

Bharti Airtel confident on 3G timeline: CEO

Hong Kong: Bharti Airtel, India’s top mobile carrier, said it is confident India will proceed on schedule with 3G spectrum auctions in January, with high hopes for the technology in the highly competitive market.

India held a pre-bidding conference on Monday in the run-up to third-generation (3G) spectrum auctions that have been twice delayed but are now scheduled to take place on 14 January.

“It went well. Our confidence is high," Bharti chief executive Manoj Kohli told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday in Hong Kong, commenting on the Monday conference. “If everything goes well, within a few weeks of the auction we should get some spectrum."

He added that Bharti Airtel was still deciding whether or not to bid for spectrum for WiMax, a stationary wireless technology that also has high-speed data transmission capabilities similar to 3G.

India will auction WiMax spectrum concurrently with 3G.

“It’s under consideration," he said of the company’s view on WiMax, adding it would soon make a final decision.

India’s fast-growing mobile market could provide fertile ground for 3G, with as many as 200 million users possible by 2014, according to some projections.

But the broader mobile market is also becoming increasingly competitive as the existing 11 national and regional players cut rates to attract subscribers before four new companies start operation this year.

Bharti, whose biggest competitors include Reliance Communications, Vodafone Essar and Tata Teleservices expected the prevailing stiff competition to continue into 2010, as the government worked on new rules that may allow faster consolidation, Kohli said.

“This intensive hyper-competitive market is a short-term phenomenon, maybe two to three quarters," he said. “Consolidation, I think, will be expedited by the hyper-competitive situation in the market."

Current laws prohibit Indian mobile carriers from being acquired until three years after starting up. But many complain such rules are stifling much-needed consolidation, leading the government to consider relaxing the restriction.

“We believe policy will become more flexible, maybe in the next six months," Kohli said.

Separately, Kohli said Bharti Airtel was still evaluating whether or not to make a public offering for its infrastructure unit, Bharti Infratel, as it focuses on its core wireless service.

He said that if Bharti proceeded with the plan, the timeframe could be within the next 12-18 months.