Ambani Said to Give Top Oil Executive Telecom Duties

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani has picked P.M.S. Prasad, Reliance Industries Ltd.’s petroleum division chief, to help the company start telecommunications services, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Prasad, 61, is part of a group of top officials working on Reliance’s voice and data services foray, the people said, asking not to be identified because they aren’t allowed to speak to the media. Reliance held seven oil and gas blocks in India as of Sept. 30 compared with 34 in 2006, giving Prasad the time to work on the telecommunications venture, one of the people said. He will continue to be in charge of the oil business.

Ambani, the world’s top-ranked energy billionaire with a $18.8 billion fortune, is banking on new businesses to boost profit as earnings from producing oil and natural gas has slowed in the past three years. Ambani is turning to Prasad’s project management skills after he helped build Reliance’s two oil refineries in the western state of Gujarat and developed the company’s biggest gas field off India’s east coast.

Prasad didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone or respond to a text message seeking comment on his additional role. Tushar Pania, a Reliance spokesman, didn’t reply to an e-mail.

The company is seeking to tap the world’s biggest wireless market by users after China as mobile-data usage surges. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., the parent’s telecommunications unit that plans to offer a fourth-generation wireless broadband service, bid about 111 billion rupees ($1.8 billion) for spectrum in 14 Indian regions in a government auction this month.

‘Valuable Business’

“Reliance has the ambition for telecom and there’s a big demand for fourth-generation mobile networks, which could make it a valuable business,” Alex Mathews, head of research at Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services Ltd., said by phone from Kollam in south India. “It’s a business that could give it a lot of profit and so the management has to be top class.”

Reliance is offering a hotspot device, called Jio we-fi, to employees at the company’s office at Vashi in Mumbai, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg. It plans to start its 4G service in October from south India, one of the people said.

In June 2011, Reliance paid 48 billion rupees for control of Infotel Broadband Services Ltd., hours after the company bid 128.5 billion rupees for nationwide wireless-broadband licenses. The purchase marked Ambani’s return to the telecommunications industry after he handed over a phone business to his younger brother Anil Ambani in 2005, when they split the group founded by their father.

Ambani’s elder son Akash has joined Reliance’s telecommunications unit as a full-time employee, the Economic Times newspaper reported Feb. 17.

Long History

Prasad joined Reliance in 1981 after speaking with Mukesh and his father, Dhirubhai Ambani, and agreeing to return to India and help start a polyester factory. He previously worked with Schlumberger Ltd. and a utility in Africa, Prasad said in a 2005 interview.

From polyester Reliance branched out into making petrochemicals, setting up the world’s biggest oil refining complex and exploring for gas with Prasad in various roles.

He was closely involved with Reliance’s first phone venture that started in December 2002 and the purchase of undersea fiber-optic cable operator Flag Telecom Group Ltd. in 2004, one of the people said.

Reliance operates India’s biggest gas field with BP Plc and Calgary-based Niko Resources Ltd. Output from the field dropped 51 percent to 135 billion cubic meters in the nine months ended Dec. 31 compared with a year earlier, the company said Jan. 17.