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Who will breast the long-distance tape?

G. Rambabu

NEW DELHI, April 13

THE race to be the country's first private sector international long distance (ILD) operator is getting more and more exciting by the day.

Bharti Telesonic Ltd, the long-distance arm of the Bharti group and Data Access (India) Ltd, a joint venture between SPA Enterprises Ltd and the Hong Kong-based Pacific Century Cyberworks, are vying with each other to go down in history as the first private competition to incumbent Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL).

Although Bharti had a `soft launch' of its ILD operations, when the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made the first international call from Singapore to Chennai on the company's i2i submarine cable network, officially, it is yet to commence its full-fledged services.

Incidentally, both the companies planned to launch their services on April 14. While Bharti is scheduled to launch it at Chennai on Tamil New Year's day, Data Access proposed to do so on the same day at Kolkata, which incidentally is also the Bengali New Year day.

However, they have had to postpone their plans, as they are not in possession of all the mandated security clearances from the various Government departments.

As of now though, it appears to be advantage Data Access.

According to Mr Siddharatha Ray, Managing Director, Data Access, the launch has been postponed ``only by a couple of days''. It should happen anytime next week, once the security clearances are through.

He told Business Line that the company had already entered into agreements with more than 12 international ER1 carriers. It also has an MoU in place with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) for termination of traffic in India and for terminating of India-originated traffic to global destinations.

``The agreement with BSNL was reached quite easily, as we have our operations restricted to the ILD sector. We are not in competition with them for basic or national long distance services. Although it did take a couple of weeks for the negotiations to be concluded,'' he said.

He noted that the company had already announced a multi-million dollar deal with the telecom equipment provider, VocalTec Communications Ltd, to deploy its packet tandem switching equipment.

Mr Ray said that the tariff plan, which would be as much as 50 per cent lower than the new ISD rates (which were effective from April 1), have been sent to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for its approval.

Meanwhile, Bharti officials maintain that the launch of their services could be in the last week of April. The main problem the company is facing is with respect to interconnection with BSNL. They noted that BSNL had been driving a hard bargain as it is in competition with it in the basic and NLD segment.

Although the official launch of Bharti's international services will be only for mobile users, the company is keen that the land-line users can also avail of its services. The tariff plans of the company are also tipped to be 50 per cent lower than the current rates.

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