We face unfair competition in Sri Lankan market: Airtel

February 15th, 2009 - 11:56 am ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Feb 15 (IANS) Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel, which launched its operations in Sri Lanka last month promising to provide the best and cheapest service, is already facing “unfair competition” with other players in the local market, a company official says.

Johann Munaweera, corporate communications manager of Bharti Airtel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, told IANS that the company’s customers were experiencing “call congestion” when phoning up people on other networks, forcing them to make several tries before finally getting through.

The company has faced no such situation in India where Airtel has nearly 90 million subscribers.

“The incumbent telecom (mobile) operators of Sri Lanka have not been providing us adequate Points of Interconnect. The interconnect capacity requirement requested for by Airtel from other telecom operators has not been furnished fully as per the forecasts provided to them,” Munaweera told IANS in an interview.

This resulted in Airtel customers not being able to reach numbers on other networks “during peak hours, causing customers serious inconvenience and dissonance”, he said. Airtel is the fifth cellular player in the island nation.

“Given the excellent response Airtel has received from customers in Sri Lanka (prior to and after the launch), we believe this is a deliberate move by the competitors,” Munaweera said, describing it as “anti-customer orientation”.

He, however, said that Airtel was in constant discussions with all stakeholders, including the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, in an effort to find an early solution.

Bharti Airtel is competing with Telekom Malaysia’s Dialog Telekom, Millicom International Cellular’s Tigo, Hutchison Telecom’s Hutch, and Sri Lanka Telecom’s Mobitel.

With its $200 million investment here, it has already established 12,000 outlets in five of the nine provinces in the country and is working on expanding the services to the remaining Uva, North-Central, Northern and Eastern provinces at the earliest.

Although the Sri Lankan market is small, it is crowded. According to the latest statistics, of the total population of 20 million, six million have mobile phones.

The fixed line and mobile phone penetration in Sri Lanka is relatively high. Around 40 percent of the households, other than in the war-ravaged north and east, have access to a phone.

Munaweera said that Airtel was “extremely delighted with the progress” it has made so far, having launched its services with some very affordable and simple tariffs that have broken existing paradigms and given the customer the freedom to talk.

“Our Value Added Services have also been well received. Special mention must be made of the ‘Voice Search’ service, which has been introduced in all three languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English) to cater to all Sri Lankans. Customers can simply voice their request for news, music and even movie reviews over their mobile phone,” he said.

Claiming that the IDD rates introduced were very transparent, incorporating one flat charge per country and keeping customers well informed of the rates per overseas call, Munaweera said that roaming charges in India were 50 percent lower than other operators.

“Airtel is the only service provider in Sri Lanka to have tied up with over 420 networks across 120 countries at launch,” he said, adding that the company would soon emerge as the market leader meeting all the challenges on the way.

(P. Karunakharan can be contacted at karuna.kharan@gmail.com)

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