Bharti Airtel launches $44 million venture fund

NEW DELHI, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Bharti Airtel Ltd BRTI.BO, India's No. 1 mobile operator, launched a venture fund on Thursday with an initial 2 billion rupees ($44 million) to promote content and technology development.

India, with nearly 300 million mobile users, is the second-largest wireless market in the world after China, and still has the potential for further huge growth as only just over a quarter of its billion-plus population use cellphones now.

Operators are signing up 8-9 million users every month, and consultancy Gartner expects 737 million connections by 2012.

The growth potential has encouraged mobile operators to step up investment on technology and content as they look to tap underdeveloped rural areas. ($1=45.5 rupees) (Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy, Editing by Mark Williams)