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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Our differentiator will be the ability to think out-of-the-box

Aircel is seen to be quickly transforming itself as a pan-India player with its fingers in many pies including WiMAX, 3G and NGN. Jagdish Kini, Group CEO, Aircel speaks on the way forward and what it needs to do to stay different.

Aircel has been aggressively expanding its pan India presence since last year. What can we expect to see this year?

To transition from a regional player to being a pan-India operator, last year Aircel rolled out the GSM cellular services in Assam, North East, Jammu & Kashmir, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh. As of today we are present in 9 telecom circles including Tamil Nadu and Punjab. We intend to complete a pan-india operation in the next 24 months. Over the next 18 to 24 months, we intend to invest $ 400 mn to expand our presence in existing 9 circles as well as to roll out our GSM cellular services in the remaining 14 new circles. The competition in these circles is very stiff and hence the need of the hour is to think differently from the crowd.

While you are considered a new entrant in several telecom circles, what sets Aircel apart from the rest?

One of the biggest differentiator is the fact that Aircel was a pioneer in bringing down the rates early on in Tamil Jagdish Kini, Group CEO, Aircel Nadu. We have learnt in evolution how to manage the business in low rates. We also pride in implementing a unique business model with our trade partners where the customer ownership is equally divided between company and trade partners. This model has worked very well for us in Tamil Nadu and Chennai and we are replicating it in other circles. The ownership of the customer at the trade level helps build the loyalty with customer. Other than that we have processes that are fine tuned for customer satisfaction. In Chennai we are rated as number 1 and the learnings here can be applied in other circles of our GSM operations. Also as late entrant in the market we have the advantage of thinking out of the box, and of having innovative architecture and processes. Our approach is going to be futuristic all these can make us a player to watch out for.

You have shown considerable speed compared to other operators when it comes to be WiMAX and 3G ready. What are the objectives set here?

As we are aspiring to be a “Total Communications Solutions Provider” – rather than restricting ourselves to offering only mobile telephony services, we are tapping emerging technologies aggressively like WiMAX and 3G. We are the first ones to launch WiMAX services in 10 cities and now gearing up to launch it in 34 additional cities by end of this year. Today Aircel is ‘3G Ready’ having successfully tested a complete array of 3G services in Chennai. HSDPA-based (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) services such as downloading large volumes of business data and streaming movies online (@ 3.3 Mbps) have also been tested using both handsets and computers with HSDPA modem. Upon necessary clearances from the Government of India, we should also be able to roll out 3G-enabled services.

Why have you chosen to go with both WiMAX and 3G?

It made strategic sense to invest in WiMAX. Being a regional player we had no play in the corporate/enterprise segment so far. In order to enter this lucrative segment we needed to set ourselves apart from the rest and WiMAX provides us this differentiator. Not only this, WiMAX services provide thrust to our demographic penetration for our GSM cellular services. WiMAX is one of the products that Aircel Business Solutions (ABS) provides to enterprises. Though we don’t have any large corporate customers, we are honing our skills by serving SMEs. We will be looking for a strategic partner for ABS and this could become part of the large corporate strategy.

On 3G front, as we are a Greenfield player, we will gain a huge competitive edge if we were to enter mature markets like Delhi or Mumbai with 3G rather than 2G. Of course we are waiting for the 3G policy to be drawn out first, but nevertheless we are doing our homework before that.

How is Aircel gearing up for Next-Generation Network (NGN)?

As you might be aware, TRAI has constituted an NGN expert committee that will be looking into various issues related to NGN. Once some clarity emerges on the same, we’ll be able to finalize our NGN plans accordingly. We have begun evaluating and we have a plan to deploy it by end of this year.

What are your plans with regards to NLD and ILD?

We are in the process of chalking out a strategy to foray into the International Long Distance (ILD) and National Long Distance (NLD) telephony services domain having obtained the licenses for the same from Department of Telecommunications (DoT) during December 2006. So far we have nationally connected to 34 POPs and we will move onto 200 locations by this year. NLD will also help us in rolling out WiMAX on the the same backbone to distribute connectivity to 44 cities.

Moving from region specific player to pan-india operator, what will be your strategy in terms of branding?

Brand stands for customer experience and this could be related to the underlying architecture of the network and to the customer satisfaction points. What will set us apart will be the ability to think out of the box. In terms of architecture, being a late entrant in the market we have the advantage to evaluate many options and see which is the better way of doing it. We can implement a futuristic network easily as we don’t have to worry about large-scale legacy network. At the same time the image of a tech savvy network is not good enough. We will have to back it up with tech-savvy products. This is where WiMAX fits in as no one else is talking about wireless Internet. Also as we begin to associate ourselves with projects like Unwired Bangalore or Unwired Pune, this will give us the first mover advantage. In terms of customer satisfaction, we are investing heavily in improving both capacity and connectivity in existing circles.

With the recent high-pitched power play witnessed in the Indian telecom circle, what are your views on the movement of the market?

There always has been the ‘fear’ of a consolidation confronting the industry but it has never happened so far. But now I think that in the next 3-5 years there definitely will be consolidation and it will be a good thing. The industry needs consolidation to emerge as a strong entity; else the market will remain fragmented and face serious industry issues. I don’t know what those issues will be but we need to prepare ourselves for the consolidation. Aircel will be a participant in the market either as a Greenfield player or a participant in the consolidation process.

What in your opinion is the key to succeed in this cut throat competitive market?

I strongly believe that in order to succeed you need to think differently. What we need to do is to create a sense of loyalty with customers. It is important to provide the customers an experience that they will relish, which is different. There can be innovation at every level of operation—right across architecture, processes, services, products and delivery systems. We feel we have all these essential ingredients and knowledge and this can make us a tough player in the years to come.

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