Admitting that AirTel initially did not meet some customer expectations when it came into Sri Lanka, Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder, chairman and group CEO of Bharti enterprises, asserted that the telecommunications giant would forge ahead capitalising on its unique strengths.
“We are here not to stay at number 4. We have India roaming, long distance calls – we have already slashed rates, and the country [Sri Lanka] is enjoying the benefits,” he said at India House, on Saturday, in response to a question.
Asked if he was disappointed with AirTel’s performance in Sri Lanka, he said: “I would not say we are disappointed. We are not 1.6 million customers we came as the fifth and now we are the fourth operator. Our idea is to get to next level.”
On the law in Sri Lanka, he said that the rules do not allow the new comers to play with the tariff, “which is an important tool. We are used to it, we are playing within that, we are growing within that. Yes, the flexibility of tariff should be there. That is our request to the government. But at the end of the day, you have to play with the regulation that is there,” he said and added as an aside: “I wish we had a regulator back in India who would put a system there as well.”
Commenting on the situation for new operators in Sri Lanka, he said that newcomers will need some more support. “We have serious interference issue on frequencies, which need to be resolved. There are non tariff, non rate related issues, which also need to be looked at,” he added.
AirTel came to Sri Lanka four years ago, “when nobody was investing here. We were invited by the Sri Lankan government to set up operations here. We were welcomed well…But after that we did not fulfil some expectations. Now we are coming up,” he added.
Asked to compare the deal that AirTel received in Sri Lanka with other countries where it had operations, Mr.Mittal said that it was not a bad deal. “We were welcomed here. All sorts of support were given to us. But you have to fight it in the market,” he added.
There is one large operator in Sri Lanka who had over 50 per cent of the market share. AirTel’s revenue from Sri Lanka was “small” it its overall scheme of things.
Predicting on some kind of consolidation taking place in the Sri Lankan market, he said that five operators for 20 million customers is too many operators. “At the end of the day some consolidation – just like the case of India – will have to happen here also. I am predicting that there’s got to be some consolidation in markets that are fragmented.”
Asked if the group had plans to enter any other business activity, he said “No. We are concentrating on telecommunications.”
Asked if he would be interested in retail, he said that the Sri Lankan market was only 20 million people. The market was too small to put up a large scale retail facility.