Virgin Mobile links with Tata Teleservices

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MUMBAI -- Virgin Mobile, a unit of British communications group Virgin Media, has launched youth-focused services in India through telecom operator Tata Teleservices, officials from the companies said on Sunday.

Tata Teleservices, India's No. 2 CDMA mobile operator, will launch Virgin Mobile in 50 cities initially and in more than 1,000 cities by the year end, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said.

It expects to get 5 million subscribers over the first three years with special value-added services and handsets priced at 2,000-5,000 rupees ($50-$125), he said at a news conference.

"This is Virgin Mobile's seventh launch globally and Virgin's largest investment to date in India," he said, without specifying financial details.

"The Indian market is growing like no other market in the world," he said, referring to the nearly 8 million new mobile users who sign on every month, drawn by very low call rates.

India is the world's fastest-growing mobile services market, attracting foreign firms including Vodafone Plc. and SingTel, which has a stake in leader Bharti Airtel.

Virgin Mobile estimates there are 215 million urban youth mobile subscribers and an additional 50 million urban youth subscribers over the next three years.

It expects revenue in this segment will be in excess of 350 billion rupees in 2010, said Jamie Heywood, deputy CEO of Virgin Mobile in India.

Foreign ownership in mobile service providers is capped at 74% in India.

Branson has criticized the tight controls in sectors such as telecoms, airlines and retail.

Tata Teleservices and its subsidiary Tata Telservices (Maharashtra) Ltd., provide services in 20 of India's 23 telecoms zones, and had more than 22 million subscribers at end-January.

Branson's Virgin Group , which encompasses planes, trains, automobiles, space travel and personal finance, operates flights to London from India, but is not allowed to own a stake in a domestic carrier.

The group also has a minority stake in a private FM radio operator, Fever, controlled by HT Media Ltd.

Virgin Comics is partnering India's Studio 18 and broadcaster UTV Software Communications Ltd. in publishing, television, film and gaming.

"India is a very attractive market to be in," said Branson, who recently beat Jesus Christ in a U.K. survey to find the top role model for children.

"If we can't do well here, we can't do well anywhere else."
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