Migration in India,sociologists posit, has ratcheted up in the second decade of reforms. Is itjust the roaring economy that is behind it? The pop anthropologist thinks thereis another reason too: an estimated half a billion mobile phone users in India. In 2001,the total number of phones was just 45 million. For the migrant, distance isdead, truly; everybody is just a phone call away. It helps that even afive-minute call will not cost more than the cheapest filter cigarette of theland. Who got it there?
A company called Bharti Airtel, India'sNo.1 phone firm today and the world's sixth by customers. Airtel shredded eachpaisa of cost when it was faced with a grow or perish future in the mid-2000s.This included outsourcing everything that was not core: phone and computernetworks, billing and customer service. Indians revelled in the low cost ofservice, global peers copied the model, and Airtel made enough cash to fund a$10-billion buyout in Africa.
By Anusha Subramanian, Anand Adhikari, K.R. Balasubramanyam, Rajiv Bhuva, Josey Puliyenthuruthel,G. Seetharaman and Sunny Sen