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AirTel closes gap with Command in September

Calcutta, Oct. 11: Calcutta may be one of the slowest growing cellular markets of the four metros, but the battle of the beep is taking an interesting turn, with AirTel—which entered the city only December last—and Command slugging it out for control of the airwaves.

However, AirTel lags behind the Hutchison-controlled Command, despite claims of improving its network and infrastructure with an investment of around Rs 100 crore. In fact, the company even registered a negative growth in February.

But from September, AirTel feels that things are finally looking up. According to the statistics of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), AirTel has added 11,516 subscribers as against Command’s figure of 10,210 in September.

“The 53 per cent share that we bagged in September is not due to any special promotional activity,” said Deepak Gulati, chief executive officer of Bharti Mobitel. “Our efforts to change market dynamics by investing in network and distribution has paid off.”

Gulati says that the company has already started narrowing the gap and will continue to do so in a sustained manner. He, however, refused to say by when it was likely to emerge as the top player in the Calcutta market. According to COAI, AirTel currently has a subscriber base of 1,54,482 as against Command’s 2,18,901 in September.

Reacting to AirTel’s initiatives to bridge the subscriber gap, Command chief operating officer Sunil Sood said, “We are confident that we will continue to maintain a lead. The real challenge lies in expanding the market and increasing affordability to penetrate deeper.”

“We have maintained a consistent performance in the past year, while AirTel has had an irregular growth pattern,” says Shankho Chowdhury, vice-president of business operations for Command. “Also, from a lead of 20,000, we now are ahead by almost 70,000 subscribers, which is not a small difference.”

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