Bharti airtel launches 3G as security tightens

15 February 2011 |

Bharti airtel followed Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices with the launch of services in Karnataka in south India, and will roll out the service in 12 further regions by March.

Bharti airtel has become the third operator to launch 3G services in India, in the wake of Indian government threats to restrict the use of 3G services.

The company said it chose Karnataka over the main hubs of Mumbai and Delhi, where it also has a presence, as it represents the operator’s largest market by revenue share. It acquired licences in India’s 3G auctions last year.

“The world over, data traffic, on the back of high-speed internet and social networking has already exceeded voice traffic,” said Sanjay Kapoor, CEO at Bharti airtel. “India is later than most of the world, but no doubt we will catch up at a much faster speed.”

In December 2010, the Indian government threatened to prevent operators from offering high-speed internet services, such as downloading music and video clips, over what it has called potential threats to national security. The issue is already having a detrimental effect on India’s 3G market, analysts have said.

“The Indian government is particularly concerned with video calls and instant messaging, because they cannot be monitored in real time,” said Shiv Putcha, principal analyst at Ovum. “To implement this, operators must apply changes in the network which will take time. Monitoring is inevitable but the only question is one of degrees.”

India has been on alert, with increased security in most areas, following the Mumbai bombings in November 2008. Subscriber verification has been greatly tightened over the intervening period, but with prepaid users making up the biggest segment of the mobile market, there is still significant perceived risk of abuse, according to Putcha.

“Given the history of security threats in India, it is natural for the security agencies to attempt to put lawful monitoring mechanisms in place,” he added. “A combination of strictly enforceable verification norms and real time monitoring mechanisms will be necessary, particularly in emerging markets.”