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Bharti, Vodafone set up Jersey test bed

Indian operator Bharti Airtel has launched services on the island of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency 100 miles south of the mainland UK.

As part of the Vodafone partnership program, the firm, headed by Sunil Bharti Mittal, will take services to market under the Airtel-Vodafone brand. With a population of around 90,000, Jersey is hardly the kind of growth market that Mittal is used to. Nor is it the kind of market into which Vodafone tends to expand these days.

It is likely that the operation is intended as a two-pronged test bed, rather than a serious profit-making venture.

On the one hand, Vodafone and Airtel are taking the opportunity to try out some enhanced services on a small, manageable and reasonably wealthy market. With an HSDPA network at launch, the carrier will be offering voicemail that can be routed to an email account, a missed call alert that functions when the phone is switched off, an E-bill service that provides up to date billing information and a mobile to mobile prepay top-up service. The firm is also experimenting with new tariff structures.

Bharti, meanwhile, is seeing how it feels to expand into developed markets. A little over two years ago, in an interview with Telecoms.com’s sister publication Mobile Communications International, Sunil Bharti Mittal revealed that he had his eye on a move into advanced markets. He argued that his firm’s cost management skills, honed running a business on $0.02/minute call charges and $5 ARPU, would enable it to significantly improve on the kind of margins enjoyed by developed market carriers.

“There is so much wastage in European and US markets,” Mittal said at the time. “The huge handset subsidies that pass into the tariffs, the high acquisition costs, the sheer operating costs in [developed] parts of the world, the engineers, the call centres, everything is so expensive. So even at 25 – 30c/minute, the margins are not that great.” His expansion plans, he said, would carry him into these markets, and “high cost operations where we can lower cost and tariffs.”

The performance of Airtel-Vodafone in Jersey could well prove a useful indicator of future moves by both carriers.


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