Vodafone kickstarts work for launch in 6 new circles

Vodafone Essar has silently kicked off the groundwork in the run-up to launching greenfield cellular networks in six new circles – Orissa, Bihar, Assam, North East, Himachal Pradesh and J&K – where the licences are held through its wholly-owned subsidiary Vodafone Essar Spacetel (formerly, Essar Spacetel). For starters, the company’s project offices in Bhubaneswar, Patna and Guwahati are abuzz with activity these days.

Though Vodafone Essar Spacetel’s staff strength in these locations is skeletal, team leaders are trying to assess the appetite for cellular services in these eastern markets that are currently serviced by four GSM service providers – Bharti Airtel, BSNL-CellOne, Reliance Telecom and Dishnet Wireless.

The pre-launch initiatives in Orissa, Bihar and Assam are being anchored by Vodafone Essar’s director (eastern operations) Krishna Angara, who also oversees the Kolkata and West Bengal operations. “Dedicated Vodafone Essar teams are engaged in a mix of market studies and detailed cellular network planning in Orissa, Bihar and Assam circles.

The mission is to subtly build greater awareness about the Vodafone brand in these new circles. Following the recent conclusion of Vodafone’s Hutch Essar acquisition, the Vodafone brand is slated to be unfurled nationally later this year,” company sources familiar with the developments told.

Incidentally, the latest overtures come despite the fact that Vodafone Essar Spacetel is yet to receive its pending quota of GSM spectrum from the DoT in the six new circles for rolling out 2G mobile services. The company has applied for 4.4 MHz of radio spectrum in all six circles. The company is also yet to receive the licence for the Madhya Pradesh circle.

The spectrum allocation is crucial since that will determine the level of investment that Vodafone Essar eventually makes in its greenfield cellular network rollouts. If the share of spectrum is reduced, an operator will have to invest more in network infrastructure by adding more base stations (BTSs).

While Vodafone Essar officials are hopeful of an early solution, DoT circles hinted that the pending 2G spectrum allocation for the company is unlikely to be considered before December 2007.It is learnt that an internal committee has been constituted by DoT to take a relook at the existing 2G spectrum allocation process and also encourage spectrum efficiency.