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Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 12 News List

India's massive mobile phone market taking off


Indians are likely to be using more cellphones than fixed lines by year-end as overall use of telephones soars, officials said yesterday.

Still, only 7 percent of the country's billion-plus population has any kind of telephone, despite India's technology boom and one of the world's largest telephone networks. But that compares with less than 1 percent less than a decade ago, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology said yesterday.

The advent of cellular phones has allowed many Indians to bypass the state-run company, which in the past forced people to wait years for a connection if they weren't willing or able to pull strings and bribe officials.

"The share of mobile phones in the total number of telephones is ... more than 45 percent," a ministry statement said. "It is expected that by the end of the year, the number of mobile phones would be more than the fixed phones."

More than 2.8 million new phones of all kinds were added in April and May, 70 percent of them mobile, a marginal rise over the 2.6 million new phones during the same two months last year, the statement said.

At the end of May, India was estimated to have 79.4 million telephones -- 36.3 million of them cellular -- the ministry said, in a population estimated at 1.06 billion.

India began dismantling its monolithic telecommunications infrastructure in the 1990s. Private companies are now allowed to operate fixed and mobile networks and provide Internet services, in the US$8.6 billion telecommunications market.

The private sector controls 41 percent of the market, the ministry statement said.

In related news, Bharti Televentures, the largest private telecoms company, said yesterday it had awarded a US$50 millioncontract to Siemens to help run its growing mobile network.

Bharti gave the three-year contract to Siemens to manage three out of its 21 Airtel mobile network areas, covering 1,650 towns. Bharti has 6.5 million mobile subscribers and 544,900 fixed-line customers.

In February Bharti awarded a similar contract worth US$400 million to Ericsson to manage 13 of the 21 Airtel network areas.

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