Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel is all set to launch its operations in Sri Lanka next week triggering apprehensions about an impending price war among its competitors.
The telecom company's arrival in the island nation will also make it the biggest Indian investor here.
Sources said Airtel's investment in Sri Lanka could touch the $200 million mark, easily surpassing Indian Oil Corporation's investment when it was launched here.
Sources said that Airtel got the mandatory permission from the Bank of Investment (BOI) to invest $150 million in 2007. ``Eventually, their investment will go above the $200 million,'' sources said.
Airtel officials in Colombo, while confirming the launch of the services on January 12, did not comment on details like what the tariff structure could be.
They however denied an email in circulation, which said that Airtel would offer services at less than half the current tariff structure in the market. ``That email is incorrect,'' a senior official told HT. But it is widely expected that Airtel would cut tariffs, if not immediately, at least gradually over the next few months.
The company's launch here was delayed by several months because of delays in getting all the required permissions. The current players in the mobile market had also petitioned the government with their apprehensions about cuts in tariff.
There are more than 6 million mobile users in Sri Lanka. About 60 per cent of Sri Lanka's mobile market is controlled by Dialog Telekom, a unit of Telekom Malaysia. The rest is shared between Mobitel, a unit of Sri Lanka Telecom, Tigo, part of Millicom International Cellular, and Hutchison Telecom.
In September 2007, Bharti Airtel had signed a $150 million deal with China's Huawei Technologies to set up a mobile phone network in Sri Lanka. The Chinese has set up essential infrastructure like communication towers for the Indian company.
"We are confident Huawei can help us launch second-and third-generation mobile services when we launch our operations in Sri Lanka next year," Bharti Airtel's executive director Sanjay Nandrajog had told reporters here when the deal was signed last year.
News agency AFP reported that Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia to introduce mobile phones when it launched an analogue network in 1989.