Bharti’s data push

Bharti Airtel is cementing its position in the region by expanding its enterprise services division.

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Bharti’s data push Ajay Chitkara sees data services growth of up to 80% in MEA
By  Roger Field Published  March 22, 2011

While Bharti Airtel has become a familiar name in the region’s telecom sector, fewer people are aware of its data services division. But with the company investing heavily in expanding its data services offering beyond its home market of India, Bharti Airtel has the potential to shake-up the region’s enterprise services sector.

The company decided to start offering enterprise services in India about eight years ago, according to Ajay Chitkara, CEO, global data business, Bharti Airtel.

“The third line of business for us after mobile and fixed line was enterprise services, and the role of this unit was primarily to address the needs of enterprise customers in India,” he says.

“We address around 2000-plus enterprise customers in India with anything and everything they need starting with mobility, fixed line and data services.”

As a natural extension of its business, the company then started to offer services to global operators and multinational companies that were entering India.

“During the past two years we have expanded the same unit and we have started offering services in many other parts of the world,” Chitkara says.

And a key reason for the company’s expansion into foreign markets is the fact that it has developed an extensive global infrastructure in recent years, after investing in numerous sub-sea and terrestrial cable systems around the world.

For example, the first overseas market that Bharti Airtel entered was Singapore. “This was because nine years ago we installed our first cable, called i2i, which was between India and Singapore and is jointly owned by Bharti Airtel and Singtel,” Chitkara says.

He explains that Bharti Airtel developed an extensive international cable system to serve its Indian data business. This was necessary because some 80% of the internet content being accessed by customers was in the US.

“To reach that content you need to build a network from the Pacific as well as Atlantic side. In the last couple of years, to serve our organic traffic in India, we have been building networks,” Chitkara says.

“We started with Chennai-Singapore then we started the SeaMeWe4 cable between Singapore and Europe.

“While we were building this network we realised we now had cable assets in the East and the West, with at least two or three different routes and extensive coverage.”

Bharti Airtel then leveraged this global presence and started to offer various enterprise services in multiple markets, but with a focus emerging markets.

“We have a whole lot of products that are available for our enterprise and service partners and carrier customers, which starts from MPLS, ethernet, managed services, and systems integration,” Chitkara says.

He adds that the company is also “going up the value chain” by offering managed services as opposed to just transmission networks.

Customer profile

Far from looking to work with any enterprise customers, Bharti Airtel is focusing mainly on businesses and multinational companies that have “an affinity towards India and other emerging markets”.

“The qualified customer base of multinationals is anyone who has an affinity towards India, the Middle East or Africa where we have a strong foothold, and a few other markets in AsiaPac,” Chitkara says.

Bharti Airtel is also keeping an open mind about how it engages with its clients and is quite comfortable to partner with telecom operators in other countries to service enterprise customers.

“We strongly believe this. We have been working on this kind of partnership from the beginning of our organisation.

“We support very clearly service providers who internally may be supporting our enterprise customers. So we use these service providers as a channel for us to reach to multinational customers where we may not be reached directly.

MEA growth

The Middle East and Africa is a region where Chitkara sees particularly strong potential for growth.

“We believe very strongly that there is a strong growth opportunity available here, and there is a strong affinity between the MEA region and India,” he says.

“In our global aspiration, the Middle East and Africa plays a very important role.”

Bharti’s enterprise business is experiencing growth of between 60% and 80% a year in the MEA region, although Chitkara admits this is from a low base. However, he sees huge ongoing potential, particularly as key projects such as the Eassy cable, which connects East Africa to the rest of the world, and I-Me-We, which connects India to the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Europe, recently started operations.

“The next couple of months will be interesting for us and we are expected to grow this market by 80-100%,” he says.

Africa also holds particular significance for Bharti Airtel’s global data business after the company acquired the Africa assets of Zain Group last year. Indeed, with Bharti Airtel now one of Africa’s largest mobile operators, the enterprise division will also be able to offer services to the new operations.

“We have lots of assets available, we invested in three separate cable systems which cross the Middle East such SeMeWe4, I-ME-WE. We are also making large investments in cable systems entering into Africa, like Seacom and MainOne, so we already have large capacities available,” Chitkara says.

“We believe we will be one of few carriers with such a presence in Africa, particularly with local access available in 16 countries, backhaul and also the global assets available to distribute African traffic around the world, and from around the world traffic into Africa,” he adds.

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