‘Nobody is able to raise tariffs’


12 Jan 2012
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‘Nobody is able to raise tariffs’

When basic mobile telephony ( 2G) services were launched in India some 15 years ago, it was then already a 10-year old technology. 3G services came to India about five to six years after the technology was launched in developed markets. But 4G now is being launched in India almost around the same time that it is being adopted in developed markets.
Sanjay Kapoor, CEO of Bharti Airtel's India operations , who was in Bangalore for the launch of 4G services, told TOI that in a young and speed-crazy country like India , the market opportunity for 4G is big.

What kind of adoption do you anticipate for 4G services?
Data usage is exploding globally, it's doubling each year. It is expected to grow to nearly 3.6 hexabytes by 2014. 4G gives the richest data experience you can find currently ; it's significantly superior to 3G. Half of India's population is below 26 years of age, some 400 million are below 14 years of age. This is a community that loves speed and seamless consumption of data on the go. 4G is also a technology that can make the country competitive , we need to use it to create these superfast virtual networks; even the Union and state governments would benefit.

What's been the adoption rate for 3G?
About 9 million of our users (Airtel has about 180 million subscribers) are provisioned for 3G. Of this, 30% are active users of 3G. India has about 10 million HSPA (high speed packet access) users, and this is expected to go up to 100 million by 2014, which would be the highest in the world, surpassing China , US and Japan.

Who do you expect would primarily use 4G and for what?
Corporates, small companies , individuals will all use it. In India, since fibre and copper lines are not available in many places, the wireless 4G technology becomes very useful to get very high speed. 3G can theoretically provide data speeds of up to 21 Mbps. With 4G, that goes up to 100 Mbps. It will allow you to access high defenition multimedia applications, download heavy files, have seamless online streaming, play heavy online games.

Trai has been talking about re-farming of 900 MHz spectrum when licences come up for renewal between 2014 and 2015. The industry is resisting this move. Why?
Spectrum re-farming is bound to involve huge costs and disrupt services. It will create inconvenience for subscribers and impact the profitability of operators. It is unfair to ask operators to move from an operational network to a new one. It also involves huge investments. The government should instead focus on releasing the huge amount of spectrum that is lying unused with various establishments.

There is talk about hiking tariffs. How much have you raised tariffs by and how much more increase do you expect?
It's the media that has been reporting tariff hikes, perhaps based on some rise in certain plans. The fact is, in the last 10 quarters, the industry has seen a 25% average dip in tariffs. Even in the latest quarter, average tariff fell by 0.8 paisa per minute, a decline of 1.7%. There are so many players and so much competition that nobody is able to raise tariffs. It's not a viable situation.

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