Virgin to venture into India mobiles with Tata

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Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is preparing to enter the Indian mobile phone market through a 50-50 joint venture with the Tata Group, the largest industrial group in India.

The venture, which is expected to be named Virgin Mobile, is expected to target India’s fast-growing youth market, which accounts for almost half of the country’s mobile phone market.

A deal has yet to be finalised, but the Tata Group’s telecoms arm, Tata TeleServices, will form the joint venture using its networks and its customer base.

Virgin Group is already known among Indian consumers thanks to Virgin Atlantic, which flies into Delhi and Mumbai. Virgin will exclusively license the Virgin Mobile brand, technology expertise for value added services and handsets to the joint venture.

India is one of the world’s fastest growing mobile phone markets. This month, Vodafone completed its purchase of a controlling stake in Hutchison Essar, India’s fourth largest mobile operator. SingTel owns 30.8 per cent in leading mobile services firm Bharti Airtel.

The launch of the joint venture comes as Virgin Mobile USA is preparing for an offering, valued at over $2bn. Virgin also has mobile phone operations in Canada and Australia.

In the UK, Sir Richard sold Virgin Mobile in 2005 to cable group NTL, which was renamed Virgin Media. He has become the largest shareholder in Virgin Media – the UK’s first “quad play” operator, offering pay-TV, fixed and mobile phone services and broadband.

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