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Virgin, Tatas in telecom tie-up

Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile wireless services will be sold in India by Tata Teleservices Ltd, reports MC Vaijayanthi.
Hindustan Times | By MC Vaijayanthi & Agencies, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2008 09:05 PM IST

Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile wireless services will be sold in India, the world’s fastest- growing major mobile-phone market, by Tata Teleservices Ltd.

The Virgin Mobile brand will target customers aged between 15 years and 30 years, Branson said on Sunday at a news conference in Mumbai.

Branson’s Virgin Group Ltd plans to start selling six handset models, costing Rs 2,000 ($50)-5,000 each, in India.

Virgin joins Vodafone Group Plc, the world’s largest mobile-phone operator by sales, in seeking subscribers in India, where about one in five people owns a wireless phone. Newbury, England-based Vodafone operates the third-largest wireless carrier in a market that added a record 8.77 million subscribers in January.

“It’s the size of the market that is attracting so many foreign companies to India,” said Harit Shah, an analyst at Angel Broking Ltd in Mumbai. “The growth is going to be here in the coming years, compared with the UK and the US, where it has plateaued.” Virgin Mobile aims to have 5 million subscribers and become profitable in India within three years, Branson said.

India ended January with 242.4 million mobile-phone users, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The nation is the world’s third-largest wireless market after China, which had 547.3 million mobile-phone users at the end of December, and the US. The agreement extends Branson's wireless holdings beyond the UK, the US, Canada, France, South Africa and Australia.

In October, Virgin Mobile USA Inc., co-owned by Virgin Group and Sprint Nextel Corp, raised $412.5 million in an initial public offering.

Since then, the shares have dropped 66 per cent as the company added fewer customers than analysts' forecast, disappointing investors.

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