Indian telecom going global

Steve Hamm

I've been working on a story the last few days about the implications of the big undersea fiber-optic cable outage in Asia last week. One of my surprises what how heavily invested Indian firms are in undersea cable business. I had been aware of Bharti Enterprises and its successful mobile model with its Airtel brand--and its ambitions for taking the model global. I but I didn't know about the undersea stuff. What happened was during the telecom bust, when some of the undersea players got overextended and in financial trouble, some of the Indian outfits swooped in and bought them at reasonable prices. Reliance ADA Group bought FLAG Telecom, of the UK; and Tata, through its VSNL subsidiary, bought Teleglobe of Canada and Tyco Global Network of the US.

These companies are now major players in global networks. And now that the global capacity glut has been worked off, prices are rising. It could be that someday the Indian telecoms have the same kind of disruptive effect on the global telecom industry that the country's software outfits are having on tech services.

I talked to Punit Garg, CEO of Reliance's FLAG Telecom, and was impressed with his ambitions. On Dec. 28, FLAG, which is already one of the world's largest network operators, announced a $1.5 billion global network build-out that will upgrade its cable systems with the latest in high-bandwidth performance and resiliency--and connect to 60 counties. That includes countries in SE Asia and Africa that so far have been on the other side of the digital divide. “We’re building a global infobaun. We’re encircling the whole globe with fiber loops so you have a a lot of interconnectivity and a lot of resilience,” says Garg.

And everybody gets equal access to bandwidth. That has huge implications for developing nations. When this project is done, they like India a decade ago, will have a shot at joining the global economy. "We're trying to bridge the digital divide. We'll give everybody the same quality of service. It will be a growth enabler," says Garg.

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