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PCOs to get a new lease of life with 3G: Ericsson

New Delhi: Third generation (3G) services can give public calling offices (PCOs) a facelift with its owners offering features like video calling at cheap rates to its customers, reports PTI quoting telecom equipment maker Ericsson.

The Swedish firm has started a pilot project to demonstrate that PCO owners could use 3G services to offer video calling to its customers, who are often daily wage labourers who do not own a mobile phone.

"We noticed that people using PCOs are often migrants from smaller towns. They work on daily wages and depend on public booths to make calls since they can't afford mobile phones," Ericsson India vice-president (communications, corporate affairs and business development) P Balaji told PTI.

Through video calls, they not only get to talk but also see each other, which is a real value proposition, he added.

The pilot was conducted using eight PCOs equipped with 3G video phones spread in both urban and rural areas, focussing on a specific migrant corridor.

Asked if the company was in discussion with other operators, Mr Balaji said the company's focus remains on setting up infrastructure.

"We are discussing the pilot with various players telling them how such services at PCOs can act as a new stream of revenue generation. If any operator needs help, we would cooperate," he said.

According to data collected by the company, the number of PCOs in the country had reduced to 5.5 million (December 2009) from 6.1 million (March 2009).

The largest player in the segment is BSNL, which has about 1.92 million PCOs, followed by Reliance (1.8 million), Tata (1.5 million) and Bharti (0.10 million) and others.

"With increasing penetration of mobile phones, PCOs as a business is losing steam. But there is still a huge population which depends on PCOs and if video calling can be provided at cheap rates using 3G technology, it will be a new lease of life for them," Mr Balaji said.

State-run operators BSNL and MTNL, along with private player Tata Docomo are offering 3G services in the country.

Other operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular plan to start their services next year.


Montek moots “contract farming” tie-up in Oman

Dubai: Oman could strengthen domestic availability of foodgrains by entering into “contract farming” with Indian farmers, reports PTI quoting Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

He said that agriculture is an important area for Omani government to invest.

“Indian law does not allow foreign companies to buy land there and therefore, Omani companies can enter into a contract farming relationship for producing the type of crop they want,” Mr Ahluwalia told Times of Oman during his recent visit to the country.

“We have identified from our side a couple of companies that have indicated that they would be interested in tying up with Omani investors to get into contract farming arrangement,” he said adding that (Omani) companies can even specify the manner in which they want to produce the crop.

Mr Ahluwalia was in Muscat to sign an agreement to approve a report on nine areas of cooperation for direct investment between the two countries.

“We feel that there is scope for bringing Omani investment into (India) for producing rice through contract farming system,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Mr Ahluwalia also noted that Oman India Fertiliser Company (Omifco), a joint venture equally owned by Oman and India, can be a vehicle of investment in fertiliser sector in a third country.

“We are interested in investing in fertiliser projects within India and outside. When we invest abroad, it is linked to availability of raw materials.

In the case of Oman, additional natural gas (feedstock) is not available. But it is available elsewhere.

However, it is up to the Omifco board to take a final decision,” he said.

He said that Omifco, which is an iconic venture for India, is keen to expand production capacity.

“It depends on whether additional gas can be made available to the project,” he said.


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