Idea Cellular, India’s third-largest mobile telephony firm by subscribers, was the biggest beneficiary of mobile number portability (MNP) — which allows users to switch from the existing telecom operator to a new one — in June, the latest month for which data are available. Idea’s managing director and chief executive Himanshu Kapania, in an interview with Rhik Kundu, says his company is well-poised to leverage the network it has created in India’s hinterland to aggressively upsell data services to rural customers, revenues from whom were mostly voice-driven thus far. Edited excerpts:
The last few years have been tough for the telecom sector with intense competition, predatory pricing and slowing industry growth. But Idea has grown significantly during this period. How did you
manage to do so?
From the beginning, our key focus was to concentrate on the task at hand and not worry about headwinds. While most operators focused on metros and urban markets, we focused on rural areas in India’s hinterland that had low telecom penetration. We never followed a secular allocation of resources and invested heavily in our 15 well-established circles. Today, we contribute over 30% of the aggregate telecom revenues of these circles and are among the top three players.
How big a role will data services play in your future strategy?
Mobile data usage per subscriber on our network is 200 MB (megabytes) at present, and this should increase to 1 GB (gigabytes) in the 4-5 years. Our strongest franchise is our consumer base of 140 million people. Our idea is to transfer the life of our consumers from being pure voice users to help them have an online lifestyle. We spent Rs 21,000 crore to buy spectrum over the last three years – both 3G and 4G. A large part of this investment was to buy spectrum in rural markets. We were among the first to reach smaller towns with a population of 25,000-100,000 with data services. We started our handset business to primarily supplement the current handset manufacturers who are more focused on urban markets. Our recent ad campaign, Uloo Banao, is focused around the digitally laggard customer and first-time users. While we haven’t made 3G investments in big metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata, we have made deep inroads in tier II cities like Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore and Surat. The one metro where we won spectrum and will soon launch 3G services