‘India, last big-growth market left’

Abhishek Law
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Sigve Brekke, Managing Director, Uninor
Sigve Brekke, Managing Director, Uninor

Sigve Brekke, Managing Director, Uninor, on the company’s long-term plans

Uninor has been facing a host of problems that include its licences being cancelled. The feud between Uninor’s two partners, Norwegian telecom major Telenor and Indian partner Unitech, is going from bad to worse.

However, not losing hope, Uninor is willing to take part in the spectrum auctions provided the terms are favourable.

Recently, in Kolkata, its managing director, Sigve Brekke spoke about the souring relations between the partners, Uninor’s long-term plans and the auction price.

Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

Relations between Telenor and Unitech have soured over the years. What are your comments?

There have been a lot of issues on the way. But we have kept our long-term view. And that is why we are doing business even after the cancellation of licences.

Yes, there has been some disagreement. We are separating our business from Unitech and bringing in some new partner. So we are taking steps to prepare for the future.

What is your opinion on the reserve price of Rs 14,000 crore for 2G spectrum? How would you like to go about the auctions?

My view is that the auction price is very high. There is no doubt about that. But I am also saying that you need to look at all the different parameters in the package. That is what we are eagerly looking for when the information memorandum comes out. Then we will look at it in totality and take a decision based on that.

So will you bid or not at the auctions?

It is not that I don’t want to answer the question. But I am not able to answer your question.

We need to see what the auction is all about and we need to see the actual auction rules.

Europe is a flat market with literally little growth. Is that why you are focusing on India?

Telenor’s strategy for the last 15 years has been to enter little-penetrated markets, implement a growth model and then grow with the market. That’s we did in Europe earlier and in Asia.

If you have to continue top-line you need to get into a kind of market like India. This is the last big-growth market left on earth.

So if we are to remain a typical European operator now, you are right, then our topline would not grow.

Telenor is standing out in the European market because we are one of few to operate of Asia. That is helping us continue growing in Asia even when European operations are flat.

Thailand was one such place where you achieved a turnaround. In India, you face a similar situation. When do you expect India operations to turn around? What has been your learning in India?

In Thailand too there were many struggles in the beginning. But now 10 years later we have done extremely well there.

We have learned that in this type of market you need to be very patient and long-term.

There is bounce in the rope and you have to try to look beyond that to really understand the market.

For example, in India, there is little penetration (teledensity), and the economy is still growing at 6 to 8 per cent.

We are not governed by short-term objectives. So we are able to go through this.

(This article was published on August 17, 2012)
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