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Idea Cellular Launches 4G Services Ahead of Reliance Rollout - nairrk - 12-23-2015

Idea Cellular, India's third-biggest mobile phone operator, launched high speed fourth-generation (4G) mobile phone services across South India on Wednesday, beating the long-awaited debut of rivalReliance Jio.

Idea said a handful of major towns were covered immediately, but all towns and cities in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana would be covered by March 2016.

Reliance Industries, headed by India's richest man Mukesh Ambani, has yet to announce a date for its own rollout of what will be the nation's biggest 4G broadband network.

The impact of that release, however, has already been felt, with pressure increasing on the country's heavily indebted telecoms firms - including Reliance Communications, owned by the younger Ambani brother, Anil Ambani. RCom announced on Tuesday that it was in talks with rival Aircel to create India's second-largest mobile operator.

The Reliance mobile phone business is India's fourth-biggest by customer numbers while Aircel ranks fifth. The combined business would surpass Vodafone's Indian operation as number two in the sector.

India's telecoms market is the world's second-biggest behind China in terms of mobile phone subscriptions, but tough competition means low margins for the 10 carriers.

Reliance Communications, controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani, has entered a 90-day exclusivity period for the talks with Aircel. Financial details of the proposed transaction have not been disclosed.

In the first sign of sector consolidation, Reliance Communications last month agreed to buy Russian conglomerate Sistema's Indian mobile phone business in an all-stock deal.