Bahrain Telecom becomes the latest overseas carrier to buy a slice of an Indian mobile startup, plus an update on the 3G saga

January 19, 2009

2 Min Read
IndiaWatch: Batelco Buys Into GSM Startup

Bahrain Telecommunications Co. (Batelco) is the latest overseas carrier to buy its way into the Indian mobile market following a $225 million investment in GSM startup S Tel Ltd.

Batelco, which already owns mobile operations in six Middle Eastern markets, announced Sunday that it formed a new company with Dubai-based partner Millennium Private Equity (MPE) to buy a 49 percent stake in S Tel, which has yet to launch any services.

S Tel was one of the new entrants awarded licenses in January 2008. It holds licenses to provide GSM services in India's six 'C' circles in the far north and northeast of the country -- Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, North East, and Orissa. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Operators and Indian Gov't Grants Mobile Licenses.)

Batelco joins a growing group of international operators looking to benefit from the ongoing demand for mobile services in India: Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Russia's Sistema JSFC (London: SSA), and Norway's Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) have all announced investment in Indian carriers during the past year. (See NTT Takes $2.7B Stake in Tata, Sistema Adds to Shyam Stake, and IndiaWatch: Telenor Still Committed.)

Batelco believes S Tel has plenty of growth potential as the mobile penetration rate in its six circles, which are home to about 230 million people, is lower than 20 percent. At the end of November 2008, India had 336.1 million mobile lines activated, giving it a national mobile penetration of about 30 percent.

S Tel believes Batelco's experience in the mobile market -– it has 4 million subscribers across its operations in Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as well as Bahrain –- will help it build its network and launch services more quickly. (See Who Does What: Middle East Carriers.)

3G auction date still unknown
A decision has still not been taken on the new proposed date for India's 3G auction, which was due to have taken place starting January 30. (See India Faces 3G Delay.)

In the meantime, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , which has already unveiled its 3G service in Mumbai, having received its spectrum early along with fellow state-owned carrier Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) , is set to launch 3G services in Delhi any day now, according to local media reports such as this one from the Business Standard.

MTNL announced a "soft launch" of the Delhi service, called MTNL 3G Jadoo, in late 2008, with services such as video telephony, mobile broadband of up to 2 Mbit/s, gaming, and mobile TV.

Other news from India includes:

  • Bharti Uses Comverse for SMS

  • Synchronica Wins in India

  • Reliance Launches National GSM

  • Infosys Closes Q3

  • Satyam Restructures

  • BSNL Expands With Redback

  • Tata, Quippo Merge Towers

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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