STel to launch 3G services within 12 months
STel, the Indian unit of Batelco, could launch limited 3G services within 12 months
Amman, JORDAN: Batelco's Indian operation, STel, could start limited 3G services within the next 12 months, although the company is experiencing delays in its wider 3G deployment plans owing to new restrictions on the import of Chinese telecom equipment into India.
Speaking to CommsMEA on the sidelines of the Arab Advisors Convergence Conference in Amman, Batelco's CEO, Peter Kaliaropoulos, said that the company hoped to launch 3G services in Bihar or Orissa within 12 months.
However, he admitted that customers should not expect 3G services to be available in all three of STel's coverage areas "any time soon" and added that according to its licence agreement, the company was only committed to completing its 3G deployment within five years.
"You will probably see us in the first circle, Bihar or Orissa within 12 months. But 3G is not imminent for us - we are still rolling out 2G and 2.5G capability," he said.
Furthermore, STel, along with other operators in India, is facing problems importing Chinese telecom equipment into the country after the government placed tough - and largely unexplained - restrictions on the imports.
"Right now we have to overcome the challenge of importing Chinese equipment into India, because that has been halted. The whole industry has been notified about new certification requirements, but what is driving that we don't know," Kaliaropoulos said.
He added that the restrictions could be related to potential malware threats in the software component of some infrastructure, and that the operators expected to gain further clarification within the coming weeks.
The restrictions are a serious blow to India's operators, which depend on cheaper Chinese telecom infrastructure as part of their business model. "The whole business model was based on lower value equipment...the Chinese suppliers are very competitive," Kaliaropoulos said.
"For the Indian model to work, you have a consumer that doesn't want to spend a lot of money, an industry that is working with a very smart business model by sharing infrastructure, towers and transmission, and then you also need equipment at a decent cost. When you bring them together you can get a good return from a $2 ARPU."
STel, which is 42.7% owned by Batelco, gained 3G spectrum for three areas of India at a cost of $76 million during last month's 3G auction.