Mobiles & Tablets

Norway’s Telenor explores taking mobile payment licence in India

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on October 10, 2014

Betting on India: Jon Fredrik Baksaas, CEO of Telenor

CEO Baksaas differs with Zuckerberg’s call for free basic services

Norway’s Telenor is interested in taking a mobile payments licence in India if the final guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India are favourable.

The company, which operates mobile services in six circles in India under the Uninor brand, is looking to expand its presence in the country.

Speaking to select media, Telenor’s President and CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas said, “Mobile networks have good and high possibility to realise financial inclusion on the mobile phone. Telenor is a frontrunner in the financial services space in other countries, we also own banks in some countries. It’s a good step for the Indian regulator to include mobile banking licence. We will definitely have a look at it.”

Telenor had entered India through a joint venture with Unitech as a pan-India operator. However, post the 2G scam, its licences were cancelled. The company bought back spectrum in 7 circles in the auctions. When asked if there were any plans to expand operations again to all the 22 circles, Baksaas said the company will evaluate the opportunities as it comes. “Our objective is to be here long-term. Right now, we are concentrating where we are,” he said.

More spectrum needed

Telenor is in the process of increasing its stake in the Indian venture to 100 per cent. There have been market rumours that the company may be looking to buy an existing player to expand footprint. Baksaas said there was some clarity required in the mergers and acquisition rules but he would not speculate on any possible consolidation discussion. Baksaas said the Government should take efforts to make available more spectrum if it wanted to realise the vision of Digital India. Uninor has so far focussed on offering basic services on 2G technology betting on being the cheapest service provider. This year it has extended networks by deploying 5,000 base stations and has seen 40 per cent growth in top line.

“There are challenges in India and there are opportunities. The new Government has strong plans to grow the economy growing forward. Telecom is an enabler of economic growth,” he said.

Commenting on Mark Zuckerberg’s call to collaborate for offering free basic services, Baksaas said this was not a workable model. “To argue that access to network should be free will not result in good networks in the long term. There is no such thing as free lunch. This has to be associated with some form of payments,” he said.

Start own apps

Baksaas said that telecom operators could also take steps to starting its own services and applications that are interoperable across each others networks. “Mindset of operators needs to change in that direction. We need to establish interoperability and this has to irrespective of market share,” he said. Taking a dig at Facebook, Baksaas said that telecom companies have better understanding of the local market than a company coming out of Palo Alto (Facebook headquarters).

Taking on Facebook and Google’s efforts to have alternative networks based on balloons and solar powered drones, Baksaas said it will be unlikely that companies will make heavy investments into regulated area rather than stay where they are and remain unregulated.

“Loons and other ideas are good as it stresses the minds of conventional operators to think ahead. Whether loons will realise cost-effective solution or whether it disappears into the moon it’s another question,” he said.

Published on October 10, 2014

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