Indian telecom fever - rising temperature

Less than a decade ago it used to take several months to get a new fixed-line telephone connection in India. Mobile telephones, introduced to the country in 1994, were seen as futuristic devices available only to the wealthy elite.
But in november 2006 India overtook China as the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world when it registered a record five million new subscribers on GSM services in one month
India now has 140 million mobile phone users, compared with 10 million in 2003, making it the third biggest market behind China on 450 million and the United States on 220 million.
Dayanidhi Maran, India’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology, forecast this month that the country would have half a billion mobile subscribers by 2010.
Small wonder, then, that Indian and foreign investors are scrambling to jump aboard the telecoms revolution in the world’s second most populous country.
A dazzling array of handsets is now available on the Indian market, ranging from the Spice S400 at 1,799 rupees (£20) to the O2 Xda Atom at 35,000 rupees (£400).
With eight GSM operators and four on the competing CDMA technology, mobile telephony has become affordable not just for the burgeoning middle class but for a growing number of blue-collar workers.
Taxi drivers, teashop owners and domestic staff in major cities, many of whom still do not have a fixed-line telephone at home, are often to be seen with a cellular phone clamped to their ears.
Meanwhile, young middle class subscribers are increasingly turning to higher-end mobile phones to download music and watch Bollywood movie clips.
Telecoms is one of the country’s less heavily regulated sectors, with foreign investors permitted to own 74 per cent of Indian mobile operators.
The biggest service provider is still Bharti Airtel, one of the first GSM operators in India, which has a market share of 21.6 per cent or 30.26 million subscribers.
It is closely followed by Reliance, which offers both GSM and CDMA services, on 28.58 million subscribers, or 20.4 per cent of the market.
Hutchison is in third place with 23.33 million subscribers, giving it a market share of 16.66 per cent. But it is the leader in the lucrative markets of Bombay, Calcutta and Gujarat.
Within India, the biggest local markets are Andhra Pradesh and Delhi with about 11 million subscribers each. But even the most backward states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar boast subscriber bases of 6.7 million and 5.1 million respectively.

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