Market leader eyes foreign opportunities

Rajesh Prothi
05 May 2008

Best Carrier India
1. Bharti Airtel

2. Reliance Communications
Last year's winner: BSNL

Owners: Bharti Group 50.30%, SingTel 15.58%, Others 34.12%

Business scope: Mobile and fixed wireless (GSM) services, broadband DSL, fixed-line voice, national and International trunk voice services

Financial (First nine months 2007-08): Revenue: $4.82b, up 46%. Net profit: $1.22b, up 67%

Bharti Airtel has consolidated its position as India's biggest mobile operator and is now planning to expand beyond the borders of India.

'During the past year we have logged a subscriber base of 60 million which has catapulted us in the list of top five telecom companies in the world,' said Akhil Gupta, managing director, Bharti Enterprises.

While 3G licenses have not yet been issued in India, Bharti has conducted UMTS trials.

Bharti Airtel is also at the forefront among emerging market carriers in developing remittance services over the mobile phone. Its mChek bill payments platform was runner-up in the Telecom Asia Awards Innovation of the Year category and won a GSMA award earlier this year. Bharti Airtel is also running a mobile money transfer pilot with Western Union in India.

The company's major focus this year will be on content - entertainment, gaming and e-education - as it bets big on IPTV, says Gupta. A 1,000-customer trial is now underway and full launch will take place 'soon', he said.

'Through this service we will offer digital broadcast TV, time-shifted broadcasted TV, video on demand and radio services.'

Bharti is also preparing to launch a DTH service, and for this a state-of-art infrastructure unit is being set up for uplinking and broadcast.

Bharti Infratel, a wholly-owned subsidiary, has joined with other mobile operators Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular to pool and lease out their mobile towers in the fast-growing market.

The group has also signed an agreement with VeriSign to usher in next-gen internet Infrastructure and identity services in India.

The other goal in the next few years, say company officials, will to expand into international markets. Bharti has launched 2G and 3G in the UK Channel Islands and has received a license to launch a GSM operation in Sri Lanka.

Bharti Airtel has joined with SingTel, Google and others to build the $300 million Unity cable across the Pacific, as well as fresh fiber capacity between India, the Middle East and western Europe.

Judges' citation

'In a few short years Bharti Airtel has become a global name in the telecom business. It posted yet another stellar performance in 2007, boosting subs 70% and increasing profitability in a hotly-contested market, and rolling out innovative remittance services.'

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