India’s Bharti Airtel has announced that it plans to expand the coverage of its new Madagascan subsidiary’s mobile network by around 25% in 2011 in a bid to draw in new customers in rural regions of the country. According to Bloomberg, citing comments by Heiko Schlittke, Airtel Madagascar’s director, the expansion programme will see some five to six million people gain access to the cellco’s infrastructure, and Bharti is expected to invest around USD50 million over 18 months on the network with a view to boosting subscriber numbers to 3.2 million by end-2011; according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, at end-September 2010 it had 1.53 million customers. ‘Competition is centred on the big cities but we believe the country is still under-serviced in terms of communication, and the biggest opportunity for growth is in rural areas,’ Schlittke noted.
In separate but related news, Bloomberg also reports that Bharti is introducing a money-transfer service in Madagascar to cater for an increasing demand for financial services in the country. The new service echoes similar offerings from other local mobile operators such as Orange Madagascar and Telma Mobile, and Bharti is very confident in the potential uptake for such a service, with Schlittke adding: ‘I expect 90% of our customers to be using Airtel Money in one way or another by July 2011.’