Bharti cheery picking model for broadband

Unlike its cellular foray where it is expanding its network to all census towns and beyond, Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom company, has a different model in place when it comes to its broadband and fixed line offerings. In an exclusive interaction with Joji Thomas Philip, Bharti Airtel’s president for broadband and telephone services Atul Bindal shares the company’s strategies and plans to increase revenues from this sector, including upcoming business opportunities such as DTH and IPTV.

Your broadband services are already available in the top 50 cities, though in only select parts of these cities. What’s the strategy behind this approach? What about expanding services to more cities in the country?

We are already present in 94 top cities in India and this represents over 80% of the market. We may not be present in all areas in these cities as we follow a cherry picking strategy for broadband and fixed line services. Cherry picking is to offer the best solutions to high-end customers.

Our strategy is to go deeper and not wider – it does not make economical sense to lay copper fibre across the length and breadth of any city, so we are very selective about the areas we target. Our focus is on augmenting the network and coverage in the areas that we are present in and we will soon be offering speeds of up to 8 Mbps. We are on the verge of going live with the state-of-the-art network.

Providing solutions to small and medium businesses (SMB) is now a part of your division and not with the enterprise team.

Yes, we now look into the SMBs. Our strategy here is not to look at providing just voice or data services to SMBs. Our target is to address all their requirements. The business opportunity lies in the fact that we can provide voice, data, communication, security and IT solutions together –- we want to be one-stop solution to all their needs.

Does Bharti have any plans to offer internet telephony to its subscribers?

As of now we have no plans to offer internet telephony.

What are the new business opportunities other than the traditional fixed line and broadband services?

We will soon roll out both IPTV and DTH services. The IPTV launch will happen before the year end while DTH services are expected to begin before the end of this fiscal.

For several months now, we have been carrying out IPTV trails in Gurgaon in over 1,000 households, which currently avail this service as part of our test run. They are more than satisfied.

However, we are going slowly with our trails, as we want to ensure that the quality of services confirm to the best of standards. We will first launch this service in Delhi in a phased manner and then go to the other top six cities in the country. We have already upgraded our network in Delhi to carrier-grade Ethernet for IPTV, and we are in the process of doing so in other major cities also. We have an alliance with UTStarcom for the equipment and networks for IPTV and are also forging alliances for content. As far as DTH goes, we can offer this service on a pan-India level as soon as it is operational. Our strategy for DTH is to go pre-paid just like our mobile services, where a bulk of our customers are pre-paid users.

How does Bharti plan to get more customers for broadband?

We already have a tie-up with HCL and we are also in talks with more PC makers to offer a bundled connection with sale of every device. We are also in talks with PC component makers to bring down the prices.

The idea is to get a critical mass and once we get there, the value chain is created. Importantly, unless the industry’s demand for many years on unbundling of the local loop (which allows private players to ride on BSNL’s fibre network for a fee) is permitted, broadband will never take off in India.

We are also on the threshold of inking an alliance with a major player in the internet portal space. This will give our customers access to music, gaming and other interactive services. We will also be able to offer both dual and triple play.

What about WiMAX?

We are serious about enhancing our broadband services through WiMAX, especially in rural India. This is the future – there are a lot of places where we will never lay copper, and in these places WiMAX is the best option to go. Even in these cites where we have fibre, we can expand our services by combining this with our WiMAX offerings. We are carrying out small and structured pilots for WiMAX services in many parts of the country.

At the same time, we have also initiated dialogue with equipment players for WiMAX equipment in the 3.5 GHZ spectrum band.