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Hutch to offer services in Sikkim, West Bengal

Hutchison Essar won a licence to offer mobile services in the two states, expanding its reach in India's growing market.
PTI | By Reuters, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2005 01:24 PM IST

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd's Indian telecoms unit has won a licence to offer mobile services in two more states, expanding its reach in the world's fastest growing major wireless market.

Executive director of Hutchison Essar, Sandip Das told Reuters on Friday the firm would expand services using the GSM mobile system to the eastern states of Sikkim and West Bengal.

"This is a logical next step for our expansion in the eastern region. West Bengal has an enormous potential as it is a grossly under-penetrated market," Das said, adding the services would begin shortly.

Only 0.48 per cent of people in West Bengal have a mobile phone, well below the country's average of slightly more than three per cent.

Hutchison Essar, India's fourth-largest provider of wireless services, has more than five million users in 10 of the 23 circles, or zones, that make up the country's flourishing telecoms sector.

In addition to its licence for Punjab state, where it is yet to launch services, the new permit would increase the firm's reach to 12 circles, each of them covering a state or a large city.

Hutchison Essar, part-owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, is investing Rs 18 billion ($409 million) in the Indian market to raise its subscriber base to eight million customers. Das did not say how much it paid the Government for the new licence.

The firm competes with nearly a dozen players including bigger rivals such as Bharti Tele-Ventures Ltd, 28 per cent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Reliance Infocomm Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

The number of mobile users in India, where tariffs among the lowest in the world, is expected to at least triple to 100 million by 2005.

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