The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bharti builds network muscle

Mumbai, May 20: Bharti Tele-Ventures, the cellular service leader in a close contest, has lined up a Rs 1,200-crore network investment that it hopes will keep it ahead of rivals racing to offer irresistible talk-time tariffs. The money will be pumped in this financial year.

“We are expanding our network at a scorching pace,” company president (mobility) Manoj Kohli said. An amount of Rs 8,000 crore has already been sunk in to build an infrastructure that can handle 6.6 million users, almost double its existing subscriber base of 3.3 million.

Caught off guard by the way in which Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) rustled up 2.1 million subscribers to give it a hot chase, Bharti Tele is shifting gears to lure more new customers, not by cutting charges, but peddling an array of value-added services.

The state-owned giant has made no secret of its price-cutting strategy to court customers. “Our aim is to be the cheapest and the best in cellular services. Our tariff packages are simple and easily understood by consumers,” BSNL chairman and managing director Prithipal Singh had said recently.

Kohli made it clear that was not Bharti’s way to the future. “We are not in the tariff game. We are in the service game. Indian tariffs are the lowest in the world, and in the long run, we’ll earn a premium,” he said.

Evidence of the alacrity in the Bharti camp can been seen in the way its cell sites are sprouting across the country. The idea is to knit over 300 towns, and add 1500 sites, during the financial year ending March 2004.

In Mumbai, where the group is the fourth largest mobile operator, one cell site is coming up a day; in Gujarat, it is two. “We have the experience to set up projects quickly. However, we will make it as cost-effective as we can. Bharti will be sharing almost 50 per cent of all new sites once they are up and running.” The company that harbours ambitions of a Pan-India footprint and already straddles over 90 per cent of the country is betting on service quality to stay ahead.

“We have pro-actively addressed the competitive intensity in terms of network. We see customer-service delivery as the key differentiator in retaining our sustainable competitive advantage,” Kohli explained.

As part of the new plan, Bharti’s pre-paid (Magic) customers can expect international roaming (one way). At Rs 50 per minute, users in Delhi and Mumbai will receive calls when abroad. Also on the cards is a scheme to offer short-messaging services (SMS) at Rs 15 each.

The frills don’t end here. AirTel has offered a global care card to 50,000 select customers who will have at their finger-tips all the information on medical and other essential services during their overseas sojourn.

‘Around Me’ is a service that will allow customers to track down things like theatres, restaurants, car service and shopping as they swing from one cell site to another.

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