Bharti Airtel, the former No.1 telecom operator in India, has started bouncing off the bottom as far as its operational numbers are concerned.
The numbers for the second quarter (July to September 2019) showed that the company has definitely turned the corner, at least far as broader operating numbers and revenue are concerned.
However, the company did not disclose its profit and expenditure numbers, blaming a recent Supreme Court judgement that has put a question mark on the future of legacy telecom companies in India.
Even as the expenditure and profit details are missing, Airtel’s operating numbers painted a picture of a company on the mend.
Despite sustaining a body blow from the introduction of low-cost 4G services by new entrant Reliance Jio, Airtel has returned to growth in nearly all the key parameters — reversing the trend seen in the past 2.5 years or so.
The most encouraging number, as far as Airtel investors are concerned, has to be the strong increase seen in the number of 4G subscribers, as well as the stabilization of its overall user base.
This is especially the case as rival Vodafone Idea continues to lose subscribers, and reported a monthly fall of 4.9 million in its userbase for as recently as August.
Both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel started a program of purging low-spending subscribers about a year-and-a-half ago, but so far, only Airtel seems to have been able to re-stabilize its subscriber numbers.
In the preceding April-June quarter, Airtel had reported a decline of 0.5% in its India mobile subscriber base. For the latest, July-September quarter, total mobile subscribers with Airtel increased by 0.9% to 2.794 lakh from 2.768 lakh at the end of June.
Assuming that the stabilization denotes the end of the ‘purge’, the number indicates that Airtel lost about 20% of its subscribers in the culling. The highest ever mobile subscriber number hit by the company was around 3.5 lakh.
The second area of improvement is in data subscribers and usage, though this has been something of a continuing theme.
However, the quarter was somewhat remarkable on various fronts — continuing 4G network expansion, an acceleration in 4G subscriber addition, and finally, continued growth in data use per customer.
In fact, Airtel’s per-customer data use cross the 13 GB per month mark — making it the first operator to do so.
At 13.12 GB per month, an average Airtel data customer now uses more data than an average customer on any other network, including Reliance Jio, where the number is less than 12 GB per month.
Even as per-capita data consumption plateaued for Jio some time back, Airtel posted a whopping 10% increase in the average data consumed by its subscribers in July-September compared to the previous three months (Apr-Jun).
Compared to a year ago, the per-capita consumption is higher by 42%.
Airtel also continued to add new 4G customers at a brisk pace.
It added nearly 8 million (8.3%) new 4G customers during the three months from July to September, crossing the 10 cr 4G user mark for the first time. Out of this, around 3.8 million were converts from Airtel’s 3G and 2G data services.
Total 4G users on Airtel’s network increased to 103.11 million (10.31 cr) as of the end of September from 95.17 million as of June-end.
Wireless data growth was higher for Airtel than Jio. Boosted by the rising consumption as well as user numbers, total wireless data carried by the network increased 15.2% compared to the preceding three months. Jio was able to report only a 10.3% sequential growth, though it is on a much larger base.
The growth in data consumption was also visible in the company’s tower numbers.
Despite it being the monsoon quarter, the company added 18,087 broadband base stations, almost all of it 4G, during the three months ended September.
It now has 4.61 lakh mobile broadband base stations, compared to about 7.5 lakh for Jio. Out of Airtel’s 4.61 lakh, about 3.45 lakh are estimated to be on LTE. In comparison, Vodafone Idea is estimated to have only 1.85 lakh LTE base stations.
As a result of the rising consumption of 4G services, Airtel reported a 1.06% sequential increase in its revenue from mobile services, which came to Rs 10,981 cr during the quarter compared to Rs 10,867 cr in Apr-Jun. This is despite the negative effect of consumers making fewer recharges in the monsoon season.
Excluding the seasonal impact, mobile services revenue was up 7% compared to the same quarter of last year. In Apr-Jun, the company was able to post a year-on-year revenue increase of only 3.7%.