Sunday, September 21, 2008

Airtel to use Singtel expertise for 3G services rollout in Sri Lanka

Bharti Airtel will leverage the expertise of Singtel to roll out third generation services in Sri Lanka. This is because Singapore-based Asian telecom major Singtel, which owns a little over 30% in Bharti Airtel, is a major player in the 3G space as it has already third generation networks in several markets across Asia.

“We plan to launch second and third generation mobile services in the island nation by September 2008. This will be Bharti Airtel’s first ever 3G network rollout. We will use the expertise of Singtel,” Bharti Airtel’s president (mobile services) Sanjay Kapoor told “The Economic Times”.

In fact, industry watchers share the view that Bharti’s 3G launch in Lanka will also serve as a test bed for offering similar services in India when 3G spectrum is made available here.

According to Mr Kapoor, another option open to Bharti is to use the expertise of the members of the Bridge Alliance for its 3G services in Lanka. The Bridge Alliance of which both Bharti and Singtel are members, is a business alliance of eleven major mobile telecommunications companies in Asia and Australia.

The alliance is built on seamless service connectivity and a suite of integrated value-added services for all alliance members’ subscribers while roaming on each other’s networks. “Most of the Bridge members offer 3G services. We can use their expertise,” Mr Kapoor said.

More importantly, another unique advantage offered by the Bridge Alliance is that global technology powerhouses such as Ericsson, Motorola and ZTE are associate members of this organisation.

Last year, Bharti Airtel had bagged the licence to become Sri Lanka’s fifth GSM-based service provider. The company has already announced that it will invest about Rs 8000 million in Sri Lanka over the next five years to build a nation-wide mobile network in that country. However, a major portion of investment is being made now as the network is being set up.

Bharti has also awarded a Rs 6000 million contract to Chinese equipment major Huawei to its networks in Lanka. Apart from networks, this three-year deal includes telecom applications and software.

With mobile penetration of around 30% and growing at a rate of approximately 2 million mobile users per annum, Bharti is betting big on Sri Lanka. Bharti will have to compete with the Telekom Malaysia-owned Dialog Telecom (the largest operator in Sri Lanka), Tigo (owned by Luxembourg-based service provider Millicom International Cellular), Hutchison (owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecommunications) and Sri Lankan government-owned Mobitel.

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