Indian mobile operators BPL Cellular, Escotel, RPG Cellular and Spice Communications have merged to form the MobileFirst alliance, creating a nationwide footprint covering three million subscribers in 700 cities. The move will see BPL’s operations in the circles of Mumbai, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala combined with those of Escotel in Haryana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh (West), Uttar Pradesh (East), Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh; RPG’s network in Chennai and Spice’s Punjab and Karnataka licences will also join the venture. MobileFirst customers are expected to benefit from better value long-distance calls as a result of the tie-up, as well as the future implementation of new products and services as the partners in the venture collaborate to cut the cost of developing next-generation technologies.
Local sources have suggested that rival operators Idea Cellular and Hutchison Telecom are also considering joining MobileFirst. Idea Cellular came into being in April 2002, when Birla Tata AT&T finally rebranded their two-year old alliance; Idea Cellular commands around 12% of the total market. Hutchison Telecom, a unit of Hong Kong-based conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, is India’s second largest cellco with a market share in excess of 20%, compared with leading operator Bharti Cellular’s 28%. The Indian market is one of the fastest growing in the world, expanding by over 79% in the year to 31 October 2002, although the addition of 3.97 million new subscribers during that period was little more than a drop in the ocean in a country with a population of over a billion, raising mobile penetration to just 0.87%. Hence the market boasts vast growth potential and is expected to continue its recent rapid rate of expansion for years to come.