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25 years of reforms: Sunil Mittal, the eye that foresaw a telecom empire in crystal ball

Mittal was an aspiring entrepreneur in his early 30s. Bharti Telecom was manufacturer/distributor of equipment like fixed line and cordless phones, fax and answering machines, with production facilities in Ludhiana and Gurgaon. Bharti also had a pharmaceutical capsule manufacturing facility. Overall, it was a modest business group with Rs 25 crore combined annual turnover.

In 1992, the government floated a tender for mobile licences in the four metros. Bharti bid in partnership with SFR-France, Emtel-Mauritius and MSI-UK and finally emerged winner for Delhi circle (including its five satellite towns, NCR). He launched his mobile service.

The group was eager to enter a business that offered opportunity to scale up quickly and Mittal believed mobile telephony had great potential. The growth, scale and transformation impact mobile services would have in India surpassed the group’s expectations. Today, Bharti Airtel BSE 0.50 % is the third-largest mobile operator, present in 19 countries with more than 360 million customers. Thanks to liberalisation, the group also entered other emerging areas of the economy in partnership.

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