Vodafone Essar targets 3G launch in India by March 2011

Friday, October 22, 2010, 11:27 by Tech Correspondent

Vodafone Essar has announced that it will roll out 3G network services in India some time during the first quarter of next year.

As you might recall, the joint venture between UK telecoms giant Vodafone Group and Indian conglomerate Essar is one of six telecoms operators in the country that bagged 3G spectrum rights earlier this year.

Tata Indicom 3G services will likely be the first one to be launched in India. Vodafone has not released any information about the 3G tariffs or data plans readied for Indian users.

Marten Pieters, managing director and chief executive officer of Vodafone Essar, said the company plans to cover a significant number of cities with its 3G network before it rolls out high-speed content download and broadband services by March 2011. He demonstrated Vodafone Essar’s 3G network in a video call between Mumbai and Delhi.

The firm said that prices for its 3G services would be “competitive” and “at premium” to its existing 2G services. Vodafone Essar said that it is “in talks to swap services” with other operators in circles where it lacks 3G spectrum and vice versa. The negotiations, if successful, would ensure the company’s “competitive prices” in 3G services, Pieters said.

Vodafone Essar intends to launch multimedia services in a phased manner across urban centers at first – starting with Mumbai and Delhi – before moving to the rest of the country. The company is keen on making sure that the cities where it rolls out the services are “at least 70-80 percent” connected through the 3G network, Pieters said.

These 3G services such as video calling, high speed Internet, live mobile TV, better gaming experience will be delivered ten times faster than such services currently are over GPRS, the firm claimed. There will be a “constant upgrade and delivery of value added services” in the coming years, Pieters added.

Vodafone Essar, which paid Rs. 11,600 crore to acquire 3G spectrum licences for 10 of the 22 telecom circles in India, has awarded a three-year contract to Nokia Siemens Networks to set up and maintain its 3G network in six circles – Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Haryana AND Uttar Pradesh (East).

India’s third biggest telecoms service provider by subscribers said it expects to invest about $500 million, or Rs. 2,215 crore, over the next three years in infrastructure and equipment for its 3G network.

When it launches 3G broadband, among other products and services, the company will sell a branded portable broadband USB stick for laptops. This dongle will cost nearly Rs. 1,900.

Vodafone Essar currently offers 2G services throughout India’s 22 telecoms circles and had approximately 113.8 million users at the end of August this year, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Other Indian operators that acquired 3G spectrum licenses in India include Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Aircel, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices and a relatively new entrant to the local market, S Tel. Two companies that failed to acquire spectrum rights in the bidding process were Videocon and Etisalat.

While Tata Teleservices’ GSM arm, Tata DoCoMo, has declared plans to launch 3G services by November 5 – the day of Diwali, a major festival in India – the other operators have not divulged precise details regarding their 3G rollouts.

State-run telecoms firms MTNL and BSNL, on the other hand, have had 3G spectrum in some key telecoms areas for over a year and have been providing services in those areas as well.

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