The telecom sector didn’t feel the impact of the recession as much as other sectors, but with competition and 3G technology coming in, the marketplace is definitely going to see some heat, says Tata Teleservices MD Anil Sardana, in an interview with Tata Review.
What kind of impact has the economic slowdown of the recent past had on Tata Teleservices (TTSL)?
At TTSL, when we saw the slowdown coming, we took some very conscious and definitive steps, including divesting and unlocking value, increasing efficiency and productivity, and optimising costs, while keeping the larger Tata group business objectives and environment in mind.
What were the highlights of this past year?
How do you view the spectrum allocation and the 3G auction issue?
3G is a necessity. It will enable service providers achieve significantly improved spectrum efficiency, since 3G networks have the capacity to service a far higher number of subscribers than 2G networks. In highly penetrated urban markets like Delhi and Mumbai, 3G could resolve the problems of network congestion to a significant extent. According to industry estimates, the 3G subscriber base is expected to reach a whopping figure of 540 million in 2010.
Could you tell us about your GSM services expansion, the challenges and opportunities in this space, especially in the context of market volatility and cut-throat competition?
Our expansion plan involves two simple elements: to ensure that our network is one of the best in the industry (just like our CDMA network which has been rated as the ‘least congested’ for five straight quarters by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and to continue to liberate customers and be refreshingly different, by bringing in the best products and services into India, and by innovating continuously.
Looking forward, how do expect Tata DoCoMo to grow in comparison to your CDMA services? Do you have the wherewithal to compete on two fronts?
Innovation in services and offerings has seen TTSL leapfrog the competition over the past few months in adding new subscribers. Could you tell us about TTSL’s innovation initiatives?
We hope to bring in more value-added products from NTT DoCoMo soon — similar to the highly successful i-mode suite, m-wallet, i-concierge, etc that are popular in Japan and other parts of the world. We may customise them to the Indian consumer’s requirements.
TTSL will also launch unique enterprise domain solutions in partnership with global leaders in their respective areas and in partnership with DoCoMo.
TTSL has been chasing high-speed growth for a while now, and it seems to have got precisely that. What was the tipping point in this race, and what factors will play a role in sustaining such growth?
Going forward, I think it will be telecom that will usher in the next revolution in the lifestyle space and we hope to lead this revolution.
Does the company have the potential to be the top telecom player in India? What will it take for this to happen?
In which areas or functions does TTSL face the most significant challenges? Is it technology, HR or customer service?
The biggest challenge lies in regulations and issues related to spectrum. Being a late entrant in the mobility business, TTSL faces the challenge of getting spectrum, a scarce resource that has already been hoarded by incumbents. What we, as a service provider, expect from the government is a level playing field and speedy implementation of services like 3G and mobile number portability (MNP) so that the Indian telecom consumer doesn’t have to wait inordinately for services that can make a deep impact on their lives and livelihoods. We commend the government’s moves on the 3G and MNP fronts so far and look forward to their expeditious rollout.
Regarding HR, it is our people who are our greatest asset and we will continue focusing on this space.
How is the continuing telecom revolution changing India, urban as well as rural? How will this phenomenon pan out over the next few years, and what will be its impact on our country and our economy?
The mobile phone will transcend from being a communications device into a behaviour assistance tool, with personalisation of services to suit individual requirements. Users will be the owners of the content on their mobiles, not just the carriers, and the phones will become an extension of their identity.
In rural India, telephone connections went up from 3.6 million in 1999 to 12.3 million in March 2004, and then jumped to 123.51 million in March 2009. Their share in the total telephones in use has increased from around 14 per cent in 2005 to 31 per cent as on September 30, 2009. Going forward, the rural sector will be a prime focus area as the industry spreads its reach far and wide into the interiors of India, on the back of customised applications that don't just add to the quality of life, but to livelihoods too.