My “Journey Beyond the Three Seas” – An Indian Telecom Travelogue

I love Tver. My parents live in Tver. There are cute neighborhoods in town. Not very good roads, but where have you seen good roads in Russia? Especially refreshing is the crisp pine air in a little forest near Ordzhonikidze Street where we live. Tver is a typical quiet Russian provincial city. It is located a couple of hours by car from Moscow. Nowadays, its old churches and the bank of the Volga River are the only witnesses of Tver’s long and diverse history. What is interesting, though, is that Tver is connected to India.

No, Air India doesn’t fly to Tver and Aeroflot has not yet launched its first flight from the sleepy Tver airport to New Delhi. But back in the 15th century one simple Russian Koh Management Accounting Services. merchant, Afanasy Nikitin, ventured on a long trip from Tver to India passing the Black and Caspian Seas and crossing a number of countries to reach the western shores of that fascinating and exotic land. He masterfully described his life in India for three years (1471 to 1474). His travel notes “Journey Beyond the Three Seas” became the first Russian report on actual life in old Indian kingdoms, a genuine account of everyday life thousands of miles away from Russia…

There are so many things that connect Russia and India. Nikitin’s travels in the 15th century were followed by Peter the Great’s mission in the 1700s. Then that ball went rolling all the way from philosophers like Tolstoy and Rerich to the first cosmonaut Yury Gagarin’s famous tour of India and a wildly popular Soviet movie, “Moscow Does not Believe in Tears, ” in the 1970s. There was the saga called the USSR, long and interesting, starring Indira Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Raj Kapoor, with festivals of Indian movies in Russia and the launch of a joint space crew. And then came 1991: the breaking year for a new Russia and also a powerful year for a new India.

Somehow and somewhere a strategic link between our two countries managed to come undone, and losing momentum we began wandering in our own universes. Building a new democracy didn’t come easily for either side. Almost two decades have passed since then, and now these two different countries are on the global scene, both quite confident and seeking greater prosperity for their people. Russia and India are now the part of a strong BRIC built in into the world economy. Today our outsourcing companies compete globally and make world-class partnerships; Lakshmi Mittal and Roman Abramovich share the Forbes’ dining table; Indians take part in oil production projects in the Russian Far east and Russians are building power plants in India. Still, the level of bilateral trade is minuscule compared to the two countries’ potential.

One area where cooperation must prevail is the high tech sector. Both Russia and India annually demonstrate outstanding growth in the ICT industry of 25%+, far beyond the us and EU.

Both Russian and Indian mobile sectors are bustling with a great vibrancy and deliver creative services. Indian companies have truly become the outsourcing yard of the world, and Russian IT businesses are learning fast. Broadband is sweeping Internet into its gigabyted pockets and 3G is zipping around the corner. Russian telecom holdings are knocking on India’s telecom doors announcing multi-million-dollar investments, but to no avail – the key to the Indian Telecom Makhal is just not there! To understand better what’s happening in the sector, GidaByte and ComNews decided to launch an exploratory trip to India to find out the industry dynamics from the key Indian players. And there I went in early March 2007.

Well, unlike Nikitin’s adventures, my first travel to India didn’t last months, but quietly began in the Hong Kong airport, where I flew to New Delhi via AirIndia. In the plane I was seated with a very kind man who happened to be a member of the Jain religion. Amazingly, thanks to Mr. Jain, during our four hour flight I found out a lot about various cultural and religious aspects of Indian life. No need for Lonely Planet!

My story went on in a lovely bed & breakfast in a quiet New Delhi neighborhood. Constantly fed and entertained by a hospitable couple, I felt at home instantly and fell asleep some time after 2 a. m. The next three days were a constant eye-opener for me on Indian business and cultural life. I actually came to India to meet with the elite of the local telecom industry, but found out much more. On top of that, I got a bug. Don’t worry, it’s not infectious, it’s a bug of great interest in India.

Mr. T. V. Ramachandran’s office was my first stop. Mr. Ramachandran chairs the Cellular Operator Association of India, and has been in the telecom industry for quite a while. Proving his words that he truly enjoys what he does, Mr. Ramachandran quickly explained to me that GSM is the way to go, that India is ahead of China in terms of mobile growth and that the 3G era is around the corner, while voice will still be the killer application in the years to come. And I even was able to squeeze a secret from TVR (that’s how he likes to be called): “Here is one more personal bet I am going to make, Andrey. This year we will see 8-9 million new mobile subscribers every month. That is going to happen, I think, and you know why? Because more operators are going to push into the rural areas due to the very innovative policy of the Indian Government to provide Universal Service Obligatory (USO) subsidy support for shared wireless infrastructure in rural areas. ”

Beefed up by a great deal of information, I set my sails towards the leader of mobile world in India, Bharti Airtel. Meeting with Manoj Kohli, Bharti Airtel’s President, and Sanjay Kapoor, Airtel’s President of Mobile Services, provided me with a wealth of data on the thriving mobile industry in India. Traveling through the New Delhi’s thick morning crowd to the Gurgaon district, where Bharti’s headquartered, was a hassle, but it’s worth it to hire an Indian Schumacher! The guy simply flew through the swarms of tuk-tuks, cars, trucks, cows, policemen, you name it! I even managed to complete my morning newspaper by sticking it firmly under my left leg. What a day! But there you go, I reached Bharti Airtel’s offices.

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