Virgin Mobile Service to Be Sold in India by Tata

Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile wireless services will be sold in India, the world's fastest- growing major mobile-phone market, by Tata Teleservices Ltd. ( Bloomberg )

The Virgin Mobile brand will target customers aged between 15 and 30 years in the South Asian nation, Branson said today at a news conference in Mumbai. Branson's Virgin Group Ltd. plans to start selling six handset models, costing 2,000 rupees ($50) to 5,000 rupees each, in India.

Virgin joins Vodafone Group Plc, the world's largest mobile-phone operator by sales, in seeking subscribers in India, where about one in five people owns a wireless phone. Newbury, England-based Vodafone operates the third-largest wireless carrier in a market that added a record 8.77 million subscribers in January.

``It's the size of the market that is attracting so many foreign companies to India,'' said Harit Shah, an analyst at Angel Broking Ltd. in Mumbai. ``The growth is going to be here in the coming years, compared with the U.K. and the U.S., where it has plateaued.''

Virgin Mobile aims to have 5 million subscribers and become profitable in India within three years, Branson said.

India ended January with 242.4 million mobile-phone users, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The nation is the world's third-largest wireless market after China, which had 547.3 million mobile-phone users at the end of December, and the U.S.

The agreement extends Branson's wireless holdings beyond the U.K., the U.S., Canada, France, South Africa and Australia.

In October, Virgin Mobile USA Inc, co-owned by Virgin Group and Sprint Nextel Corp, raised $412.5 million in an initial public offering. Since then, the shares have dropped 66 percent as the Warren, New Jersey-based company added fewer customers than analysts' forecast, disappointing investors.

Virgin Mobile targets younger consumers in the U.S. by offering games, music, news and ring tones in a partnership with Yahoo! Inc. and Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks.

``The estimated population in India of people between 15 and 30 years is 400 million,'' Branson told reporters today. ``So that is going to be a lot of fun.''

Branson's operations also include carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the Virgin Galactic commercial space-travel venture, Virgin Music and Virgin Money, which sells loans, credit cards and investment products.

Tata Teleservices is part of the Tata Group, which also controls the nation's largest maker of trucks and buses and the largest computer-services provider.

Mumbai-based Tata Teleservices ended last month with 22.5 million wireless customers, or a market share of about 9.3 percent, making it the nation's fifth-largest carrier.

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