Hong Kong: India could have more than one billion mobile phone users by 2015, with the bulk of that growth in rural areas, one of the country`s top telecom executives said Wednesday.
Manoj Kohli, chief executive of India`s biggest mobile phone group Bharti Airtel, told an industry conference in Hong Kong that his firm is aiming to almost double its customer base to 200 million people in the next few years.
"Achieving a billion plus (Indian mobile users) by 2015 is possible," he told the Mobile Asia Congress, the region`s largest telecom industry gathering.
"The largest growth will happen in the rural market," he said, adding that pricing wars between providers were knocking down rates in the Indian market and making phones affordable to more people.
Competition in India has become even more aggressive as new players unleash deeper price cuts with innovative per-second billing plans that have pushed call costs down to less than a cent a minute.
"There is hyper-competition like no other place in the world," he said.
India is the world`s second-biggest cellular market with more than 400 million users, lagging behind only China, which has over 600 million users.
Rural customers are also seen as key to growth in China, said Chang Xiaobing, chairman of China Unicom, one of the nation`s three major telecoms operators.
The company aims to tap "vast rural areas" for growth as demand for basic mobile voice services slows in saturated urban markets, he said, with customers now looking for multi-function devices that can send emails or play movies.
"Voice is a mature market in some areas, but we still see some growth potential," Chang told the conference. "Voice will be in continuous demand (in China)."
But Chinese operators must boost their data business to offset falling prices on voice calls, he said.
Chang has said he expects Apple`s iconic iPhone, which Unicom distributes, will be China`s highest-selling smartphone despite disappointing results after its official launch this month.
Mobile connections in Asia Pacific are expected to cross the two billion mark this year, more than triple the level in 2003, according to statistics released by conference organiser GSMA, a mobile industry trade group.