“We will do everything we can to stay in India,” says Telenor

Nordic operator group Telenor has said that it will do what it can to keep Indian subsidiary Uninor operating in the country.

Last week, the Supreme Court of India cancelled 122 telecoms licences that were awarded in a 2008 spectrum sale, citing corruption in the sales process of the licences.

Telenor and Indian real-estate company Unitech had set up a joint venture in India, Uninor, which was allotted 22 pan-Indian licences during the sale.

Tor Odland, VP for group communications for mobile at Telenor, told that 66 million customers were affected by licences being revoked, and of that number, 36 million are Uninor customers.

He added that the Supreme Court announcement actually stimulated an acceleration in the growth of its subscriber base. Uninor has been seeing 100,000 sign-ups per day on average, but this had actually increased since the ruling.

“On Thursday, the number increased to 106,000 new sign-ups; on Friday it was 150,000, and on Saturday, we saw it increase to 175,000,” said Odland.

He attributed the growth to sales staff in India making a concerted effort to continue growing the subscriber base at a difficult time, and said that the operator may have also benefitted from sympathy and support from the general public in the country.

“We definitely don’t think of it as a lost cause. It will be challenging but we are inspired to continue.”

He added that Telenor had pledged a commitment of NOK20bn, ($3.43bn) investment in India and has spent around two-thirds of that already on setting up the joint-venture, spectrum licences and infrastructure and loan guarantees.

Odland said that the group does not think it is fair that it is currently looking at losing its licences, which came with such a price tag, adding that the investment is probably the biggest investment that any Norwegian company has ever made in India. However, he did not rule out bidding for more licences in next the 2G spectrum auction to reassign the licences, due to be held in July 2012.

“It’s particularly hard given that we had just begun to get on track with hitting our targets for 2013,” he said. “We will do what we can to operate in India. Currently, everything is an option.”

Odland added that Uninor is not currently focusing on securing compensation from the India government for the licenses being revoked, as that is an issue for a “later stage”.

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