India’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, Bharti Airtel, is understood to have entered negotiations with a number of other cellcos with a view to forming a strategic partnership to offer pan-India third-generation services. According to the Business Standard, those operators Bharti is reportedly in talks with include Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular, with the prospect of a tie-up between rivals coming after no one cellco managed to bag 3G spectrum for all 22 of India’s telecom circles in the auction that ended in May 2010. Commenting on the current situation, Sanjay Kapoor, Bharti Airtel’s India and South Asia CEO, noted: ‘The very fact that the 3G auctions have been a fractured verdict leaves a lot of opportunity for collaboration. All preparations are on to make sure we offer pan-Indian 3G experience to our customers. By and large, usage alliances will happen within the government rules and regulation.’ While the executive did not confirm the identities of the other parties his firm was in talks with, he did state that Bharti expects to have any proposed partnership in place before the launch of 3G services, which is scheduled for December 2010.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, Bharti acquired 2×5MHz paired spectrum in 13 circles in the much-delayed 3G sale process, paying INR122.95 billion (USD2.66 billion), the highest paid by any of the seven 3G auction winners, for its concessions; both Reliance Communications and Aircel also won licences for 13 circles, but due to the manner of the bidding paid significantly different amounts for their respective concessions, with licence prices decided on a circle-by-circle basis. Idea meanwhile bagged third-generation licences for eleven regions, while Vodafone has permission to launch 3G services in nine circles. Bharti, Vodafone and Idea are all joint stakeholders in tower company Indus Towers, which would enable them to share basic infrastructure for their respective 3G rollouts, and should the trio join forces they would have 3G spectrum covering all of India’s telecoms circles bar Orissa.