Airtel Launches its Telecom Services in Guernsey

Tuesday 04 March 2008 by

Despite the fact that we all love a bargain, there are still those in Guernsey and Jersey who didn't see the need to have a second telecommunications provider, when the existing companies were attending to islanders' needs anyway.

Now, though, there is a third, in the shape of Airtel Vodafone, which has been in the larger island for six months and has just set up in Guernsey too.

So there was one main question to ask the company's Channel Islands CEO, Iain Williams: why?
'There is never real competition until you have a third operator,' he said when he called in at our Guernsey offices. 'With two you can have a duopoly. A third stimulates the market and improves the technology on offer as well as the pricing. The consumer is the winner.'

What Airtel has for us in terms of technology is 3G+, which offers faster data speeds and improves the performance of, for instance, the Internet on a laptop.

Airtel is part of the Bharti group of companies, which has 60 million subscribers in its native India and is one of the fastest-growing telecommunications companies in the world.

The Channel Islands are nothing like the sub-continent, though, so why come here? It goes without saying that no-one in his right mind would go to all the trouble of setting up a complex and expensive operation if it wasn't likely to be profitable, but there has to be more to it than that.

'It's an experiment,' said Mr Williams. 'The Channel Islands are one of Airtel's first overseas ventures, along with the Seychelles and Sri Lanka. We want to see if the business model works here - and we're investing substantial money to do it.'

The reaction to Airtel's arrival has been mixed, with the States welcoming - 'they helped us to push it through' - but the other operators predictably 'reluctant'.

However, his company, Mr Williams said, has a 'culture of collaboration', with no desire to add to the friction that has been all too evident between Cable and Wireless/Sure and Jersey Telecoms/Wave.

Airtel's stated approach to the contentious issue of masts concentrates on rooftop sites where possible. When it has to erect its own masts, Mr Williams said, 'Everything we build is shareable and we camouflage them as much as possible. We make them look like telegraph poles or flagpoles.'

Appearances are not the public's main concern about phone masts, of course. Radiation emissions are the real bone of contention and, while Mr Williams is inevitably well aware of this, he pointed out that despite all the research that has been carried out, no concrete evidence has yet been published to suggest that masts and handsets can be harmful to health.

Meanwhile, mobile phone users in the Channel Islands anticipate benefits from the presence of Vodafone, having looked on enviously as their UK counterparts enjoyed some exceptionally good deals.

The new Guernsey shop is at the top of High Street, near Boots, while the administration is taken care of at Les Caches Business Park, St Martin's. In Jersey, Airtel can be found in Queen Street and at La Rue Le Masurier, St Helier.

AIRTEL FACTS

  • Sunil Bharti Mittal started his career at 18 after graduating from Punjab University in India and founded Bharti, with modest capital, in 1976. Today, at 49, he heads one of the top five companies in India, employing over 30,000 people.
  • Bharti has formed successful partnerships with various leading telecommunications companies, including Singapore Telecom, Vodafone and British Telecom.
  • Bharti Airtel is the flagship company of Bharti Enterprises. The other businesses in the group are consumer electronics (Beetel), life insurance with AXA of France (Bharti AXA), and a joint venture with the Rothschild group to develop Indian horticulture and export fruit and vegetables (FieldFresh).