The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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AT&T joins telecom licence race

Oct. 1: Almost three years after it pulled the plug on its Indian operations, AT&T — the world’s largest telecommunications company by revenue — is redialling the buttons to offer cellular services across the country.

AT&T has teamed up with the Mahindras to apply for a telecom licence on the very last day for submitting applications to the department of telecom (DoT).

The US telecom giant has forged an alliance with Mahindra Telecommunications Investment Pvt Ltd, which is owned by the Mahindra family. Mahindra & Mahindra, the group’s flagship, does not have a stake in the unlisted company.

“This is an important step towards participating in India’s upcoming spectrum allocation proceedings,” AT&T said in a statement today.

Last October, AT&T signalled its return to the country when it became the first overseas player to secure licences from the DoT to offer domestic and overseas long distance telephony services —again through a joint venture with the Mahindras. AT&T owns 74 per cent of AT&T India, while the remaining 26 per cent is held by Mahindra Telecommunications Investment Private Ltd.

The US telecommunications company had earlier formed a venture with the AV Birla group called Birla AT&T, which provided cellular services in the Maharashtra and Gujarat circles. Later, a three-way venture was created with the Tatas called Birla-Tata-AT&T where the three partners held equal stakes.

In 2002, this venture was renamed Idea Cellular. In 2004, Cingular Wireless acquired AT&T Wireless Services Inc — the wireless operation — for close to $41 billion, outbidding Vodafone Group Plc. Cingular Wireless sold its 33 per cent stake in Idea Cellular to the other two partners the very next year. And, in 2006, AT&T gained full control of Cingular.

Once the US company gets its licence, two of the biggest players — AT&T and Vodafone — will have operations in the fastest-growing cellular market in the world.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s new chief executive officer, recently said that India was a market that the telecom company could not ignore.

Before the deadline closed today, real estate companies DLF and Omaxe, IT solutions provider Tulip IT and cable TV service provider Hinduja TMT also applied for unified access service licences to provide cellular services across all the 22 circles in the country.

Several other real estate firms such as Indiabulls Real Estate, Unitech and Parsvnath Developers have also applied for the licences.

Others seeking licences include Swan, Cheetah Telecom, JSW Steel, HFCL and Ruias-backed BPL Mobile.

Besides, Allianz Infratech, Shyam Telecom, Datacom, Stel and Bycell also applied. Ispat Industries, Sify, Moser Baer and the Dalmia group are also believed to have put in applications

The tally has already touched the 500-mark. Nearly 200 applications were submitted today.

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