In India, they fight with each other for each mobile subscriber. But in the British Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, Airtel and Vodafone are having a cosy affair.
The Bharti group, which owns rights of the Airtel brand, has been offering 2G and 3G cellular services. Under a dual brand called Airtel-Vodafone in Jersey and Guernsey since May 2007.
What was the catalyst for such an engagement?
Bharti had the licences. But as a new entrant, it was difficult for the company to penetrate the market fast.
On the other hand, although the UK market is the homeland for Vodafone, it was not present in the two islands. However, its exclusive services were very popular all over the UK.
"This was part of our pre-launch strategy, while it was part of Vodafone's 'partner network strategy'. Both the companies had agreed to enter these markets with the Airtel-Vodafone brand," said a Bharti spokesperson.
Vodafone does not have any equity holding in the partnership, he added. However, the UK-based telecom giant gets a fee for its popular services being used by the Airtel-Vodafone subscribers.
Airtel had to ensure it offered all tailored services for the Channel Islands. In the UK market, Vodafone had already trademarked a few such services, while it had no presence in Jersey and Guernsey. So, the two telecom rivals had to join hands.
Vodafone Passport, a simple roaming price plan; Vodafone Simply, a straightforward voice and data package; Vodafone Mobile Connect Card for laptops were brought to the customers of Jersey and Guernsey by Airtel.
As these were trademark services by Vodafone, and it was not possible for Airtel to offer the services without a pact with Vodafone. "All the services are still being offered by the company, with some additions," said the Bharti spokesperson. Besides, Airtel offers other cellular services in the Channel Islands.
While Vodafone's popularity has helped make the Indian telecom major's job easier in the two Channel Islands, the tie-up gave Vodafone a presence in the market.
"It is a very small market, but we wanted to have a presence. And the partnership worked well," said the Bharti spokesperson. In calendar year 2011, Airtel-Vodafone had a little more than 28,300 customers in Jersey and Guernsey.
Apart from India, Airtel and Vodafone are stiff competitors in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.
"At Bharti, it has always been our endeavour to bring world-class services to our customers. We are happy to partner Vodafone to offer services tailored to the needs of customers in this region," Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal had said in a statement at the time of launch of its services in Jersey and Guernsey.
"This agreement will mean that mobile network services of a global standard will be available to islanders and visitors alike, from the launch of the new mobile operator," Vodafone had said that time in a statement.