Indian telecom companies are taking baby steps into the world at large. MTNL, Bharti Airtel, the Tatas and Reliance Communications have all thrown their hats into the ring for a controlling stake in Kenya's only fixed line operator, Telkom Kenya. MTNL already has a presence in Nepal through a stake in United Telecom which offers services in the country and also has a subsidiary which offers full-fledged services in Mauritius. Bharti Airtel, too, is planning several initiatives abroad. It has been awarded the licence to become Sri Lanka's fifth GSM operator. Besides it offers comprehensive telecom services in Seychelles.
So what is the rationale behind these moves? Says Sanjay Kapoor, President, Mobile Services, Bharti Airtel: "As a leading telecoms player, we continually look for growth opportunities; the number of markets that we enter is just incidental to our search for growth." The game plan seems to be simple-leverage the economies of scale and the expertise that they have built through their operations in India to provide services in emerging markets that are still under-penetrated. The targets, typically, are the smaller countries in West Asia and Africa. Points out Sanjeev Prasad, Head of Research, Kotak Securities: "They see value in investing in these countries since there is little competition in these markets. In many cases, there is only one other player present." Clearly then, Indian telecom firms will continue their global, albeit in small, incremental doses.