Foreign, local firms line up Indian mobile licences

The Indian government has received about 300 applications from about 30 companies vying to tap growth potential in the world's hottest wireless market, India's telecoms minister, quoted by a Reuters report, said.

India, now adding about 8 million mobile users every month, is forecast to top 500 million subscribers in five years, from 200 million now, making it an attractive market for investment, the report added.

'We have received around 300 applications from 20 to 30 firms,' the minister, Andimuthu Raja, quoted by the Reuters report said, but he declined to say how many firms would receive the go-ahead to start mobile telecoms services.

The telecoms ministry set Monday as the deadline for applications for new licenses, and has set up a committee to scrutinise applications., the report said. Analysts say it will take several months before the government makes its choice known.

India's telecoms market, which has been boosted by the cheapest call rates in the world and rising income levels, is divided into 23 zones and applicants are allowed to seek licences for some or all of these, the report said.

New applicants range from real-estate firms such as DLF , Unitech and Parsvnath Developers to diversified Videocon Group.

Raja said the market share of incumbent carriers such as Bharti Airtel Ltd , India's top mobile services firm, might be squeezed by the entry of new players, the Reuters report further said.

US giant AT&T said its Indian unit had applied for licenses to provide services in India, while Vodafone Group earlier this year paid $11.1 billion for a controlling stake in Hutchison Essar, since renamed Vodafone Essar, from Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecom International .