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Jul 16, 2012, 08.18 AM IST
In his first-TV interview, Maxis Communications group CEO Sandip Das told CNBC TV18's Siddharth Zarabi that newspaper reports saying that they were exiting India are 'unfortunate.'
We are an extremely serious player. Maxis has been very bullish about India.
Maxis Communications is Malaysia’s 5th largest company and Sandip Das who has handled Hutch operations as a deputy managing director many years back is the group chief executive officer of this firm.
In his first-TV interview, Maxis Communications group CEO Sandip Das told CNBC TV18's Siddharth Zarabi that newspaper reports saying they were exiting India are "unfortunate", adding that the company, which is being probed for alleged violations by the CBI, was in a situation where its Malaysia based investors Ananda Krishnan could not even visit India.
He further says, “We are an extremely serious player. As you are aware Maxis has invested in excess USD 8 billion, some close to about USD 9 billion by the end of this year, which is about Rs 45,000 crore in Indian telcos, primarily because Maxis has been very bullish about India.”
Below is the edited transcript of his interview on CNBC-TV18.
Q: The Indian telecom sector has gone through quite a bit and as we talk there are reports that Maxis is looking to exit out of India, clear the air on that first?
A: It’s a bit unfortunate that newspaper reports keep carrying stories about Maxis exiting. We are an extremely serious player. Maxis has invested in excess of USD 8 billion, close to about USD 9 billion by the end of this year, which is about Rs 45,000 crore in Indian telcos, primarily because Maxis has been very bullish about India. Recently to add to our sentiment, we invested close to USD 2 billion in the nation wide auction and we were one of the largest winners.
Q: You were the dark horse, which no one thought would beat so aggressively?
A: That’s right, we got 13 circles in 3G and we got about 8 circles in BWA.
Q: And barring one more other company you have more or less broadband foot print, which covers 21 major circles?
A: Yes, the whole thing underlines the sentiment and the hope that we have about India’s data business. Today is the first day of another 500-600 million broadband users waiting to happen in India, that’s the next big Tsunami in telecom and as voice continues to mature and wane, we should all gear ourselves up for data.
It’s a very important plank for the growth of the nation and that’s precisely why we have been very bullish about it. Almost 60% of India’s population is very young. We are a very net savvy nation and we are very excited about it. So given the fact that we have made these investments and we are punting so seriously on data, it’s a very unfortunate question, I guess its probably because we are probably the most good-looking kid in town, so everybody wants to buy us.
Q: Look at the current scenario of the sector. The fact that there should be reports about Maxis is that symptomatic of some underlying desire that has come up because of what has happened in the external regulatory environment or is it that you do not have any intension to exit but you are in fact going to expand?
A: We got into India in 2005; we were a mom-and-pop operation at that time. If we were a very small footprint. When different companies talked about the industry we were put into the others category, nobody even wrote our name then people thought we were a spelling mistake, but over a period of time we have blossomed. We positioned ourselves very strongly as a pocket internet company.
This is very important - we entered the market as a 6th or 7th player, nobody gave us an ample of a chance at that time and when we saw the market and when we saw the future of data and we saw young people, we realised that we needed to catch hold of the next breath. That’s where we have very cleverly positioned ourselves as pocket internet and you would agree that in the last five-six years of Indian telecom that’s been one of the most brilliant telecom positioning placements. It worked wonderfully for us.
We are today seen on the streets as the company that’s the data company. Then we spent money rolling out networks. If you remember in 2010 and 2011, we built a nationwide network. I have been in this industry for long enough to say that I can’t remember anybody who has rolled out 14 networks in one year and on top of that came the 3G and the 2G BWA.
This required a lot of courage for a company of our size with very cheeky ambitions to sort of invest that kind of money. That’s why this whole intent of ours it hurts sometimes when people ask you are you exiting because at every step the investment, the rollout, the positioning, we have been perhaps one of the most focused companies on data in Indian telco business.
Q: From your perspective as a foreign investor in India, is there something that you would want not to have happened in this sector because clearly a lot of negative sentiment has also been created in the last year, year and a half?
A: We are Malaysia's largest investment in India. We are perhaps the largest foreign direct investment in Indian business history. I am still looking around for somebody to give me a figure of somebody who has invested more in India across automobiles, telcos, which is money coming into India directly on the ground, networks built, equity put in, debt etc. So, we are India's number one FDI company in that sense or may be we are in the top 3 or 4.
How do you deal with a company that has put this kind of money, your largest foreign direct investment, how do you treat that company? I think we could have done lot better as a nation in terms of encouraging foreign direct investment. We have to respect the fact that people come into this country because they see a great potential, India's telecom growth potential is something that we are talking about. We are cash starved as a country.
I know the banks provide loans etc, but foreign direct investment is always welcome. It has been the key to economic growth for many emerging countries. It has been part of our mandate and you expect that things would become a lot easier for you. Nobody is saying that anybody is above board in breaking a law or not following an institution, sure you should apply your laws, but to announce people sometimes guilty even before it has been proved is probably a little hurtful.
But it’s also important to see that foreign investors are not worried about good news or bad news, but they are very worried about uncertainty. The key is that our framework of investment, our regulations and our laws must be things that are steady. People like us we know that telecom businesses do not return investment in the first few years. These are long-term businesses. You got to put the towers on the ground, invest in them, which the Indian telcos have done.
If you look at the total investment done by our industry over the last 15-20 years, it has been enormous and there also have been results. We have had the most outstanding record of an industry. This is the only industry where prices have only gone down and growth has happened. It has fired the imagination of people because of some good things that may have happened in the NTP-99 policy which had the foresight and had the far sight. So, I think that framework needs to be settled.
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