The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BSNL beeps loud in villages

Calcutta, March 15: In rural Bengal, it’s time to get connected. The past four months has seen around 78 per cent rise in the number of mobile phone connections in the West Bengal circle.

According to Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) — the apex body of cellular operators in the country — figures, the number of mobile phone connections in the West Bengal circle rose to 1,27,689 in February 2003 from 71,870 last November.

And the sudden surge in mobile connections in the remote areas can be attributed to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), which launched its services on October 31. In just four months, the public sector telecom major has roped in 53,668 subscribers.

“The response to our CellOne and Excel services has been phenomenal in the West Bengal circle and we expect to sustain the growth rate,” said Chinmoy Mitra, general manager, Task Force, BSNL. He attributed the success to the network — laid along all the major highways in the state — with over 130 base stations and covering 32 townships, industrial hubs and tourist attractions. Pricing has also played an important role as BSNL’s entry brought down activation charges, both for pre-paid and post-paid users, and reduced airtime rates.

Reliance, the first to enter the market, has also cashed in on the cell craze during the past four months, but has failed to match BSNL’s growth path. From 65,734 connections in November, the private sector telecom behemoth has grown up to 74,021 in February 2003.

“We will continue with our cellular services in the state. But as we expect that connectivity growth in the state will be spurred by wireless in local loop (WiLL) technology in the future, our primary focus will be in that direction,” said a Reliance spokesperson. Though he didn’t indicate any probable launch date for the Reliance’s limited mobility services in the state, industry sources indicate that it will launched by end of April.

And to match Reliance’s big bang entry into the WiLL market, BSNL officials are busy drawing up plans to extend their WiLL services to more villages in the state. “We have around 37,500 users and we expect to double the numbers within next six months,” said Mitra.

As Reliance and BSNL fight it out for the bigger pie of the cellular and WiLL markets in Bengal, other telecom operators have started showing interest in the state. According to industry sources, the telecom boom in rural Bengal has prompted some of the cell players to consider bidding for the third and fourth operators’ license in the West Bengal circle. “The growth in the West Bengal circle is really impressive and we are actively considering to bid for the third operators license,” said a well-placed source in Airtel.

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