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3G/HSPA

MTNL Launches Low-Cost Pre-Paid 3G

State-owned Indian operator Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) has launched pre-paid 3G services in the capital New Delhi to boost uptake of its new high-speed mobile data services. (See MTNL Offers Pre-Paid 3G.)

The move should help MTNL to more rapidly build a 3G customer base before any of its rivals start offering high-speed mobile data services in New Delhi and Mumbai, the two "circles" in which MTNL offers its services. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

While the majority of India's mobile service providers can't offer 3G services yet -- they're still waiting for the long-delayed spectrum auction to take place -- MTNL has already been handed its 3G spectrum, along with India's other state-owned operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) .

MTNL launched its initial 3G service, called Jadoo, in New Delhi in December 2008 and started offering 3G services in Mumbai during May. BSNL launched its 3G services in multiple cities in late February. (See IndiaWatch: 3G Auction Imminent, MTNL Launches 3G, and BSNL Does 3G With Ericsson.)

MTNL's initial service, though, was targeted at contract subscribers -- only 5 percent of MTNL's mobile customers are on post-paid contracts -- and was limited to a few areas of New Delhi, as only 50 base stations were initially deployed.

As a result, MTNL has told local reporters it has signed up only 400 customers for its 3G service to date. (See this Hindu Business Line story.)

Now, though, the carrier says it has deployed 225 base stations around New Delhi, with more to come, and has extended its 3G service offering to include pre-paid options: MTNL had nearly 2.1 million mobile customers in the capital at the end of April this year, the vast majority of whom use pre-paid services. (See India Tops 400M Mobile Subs.)

The carrier's chairman and managing director, Mr. R. Sinha, told local media that the pre-paid 3G services would be launched in Mumbai, where the operator has more than 2.4 million mobile users, within the next few days, and that MTNL plans to sign up between 200,000 and 300,000 3G customers during the next 12 months. [Ed. note: So, one neighborhood, then.]

MTNL, which says its 3G service offers downlink speeds of up to 3.6 Mbit/s, and enables customers to use services such as mobile TV, video calling, and VOIP, is now offering 3G SIM cards at just 300 Indian Rupees (US$6.39), and has a range of pre-paid 3G service coupons available from as little as INR99 ($2.11). (See MTNL Deploys Tanla for 3G.)

That means anyone with a 3G-capable handset can start using mobile data services in New Delhi today for INR399 ($8.49).

That low-end coupon -- the "3G Trial Pack" -- enables users to download up to 50 Mbytes of data within 15 days but does not include any free minutes of local video calls.

At the top end of the pre-paid 3G service coupon range is the "3G 2500" coupon. This costs INR2,500 ($53.22) and provides unlimited data downloads and 150 minutes of free local video calling within a 30-day period.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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