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BW Businessworld

Riding The Smart Tide

or 2016-17, the company’s revenue grew by 12 per cent compared to the previous financial year. It has over 21 per cent share in the spectrum market

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Bharti Airtel is one of the most recognised telecom brands not only in India but across 18 countries in Africa and South Asia. After all, it is the third-largest mobile operator in the world in terms of subscribers, and the largest in India offering GSM, 3G and 4G LTE mobile services, fixed-line broadband and voice services. Before the year ends, Airtel is expected to launch its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology. For 2016-17, the company’s revenue grew by 12 per cent compared to the previous financial year. It has over 21 per cent share in the spectrum market. 

Addressing the shareholders in its annual report for 2015-16, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said: “As a sector, it witnessed two remarkable trends in the emerging markets — one, overall penetration of smartphones expanded rapidly, resulting in a sharp uptake in new applications and data consumption; two, regulatory issues with regard to net neutrality and OTT applications continued to be debated rather vociferously. Notwithstanding the overhang of uncertainty over these issues, operators globally have steadily come to terms with complex regulatory issues.”

According to Mittal, the rapid increase in smartphone penetration is driving the data revenues of the company, both in India and Africa. “While data customers accounted for 23.2 per cent of our total customer base in India, the corresponding ratio for Africa stood at 19.6 per cent at the end of the year. Similarly, the share of data revenues in total revenues stood at 23.3 per cent and 15.6 per cent in India and Africa, respectively. We expect these ratios to expand in an accelerated manner in the coming years,” said Mittal.  

Bharti has also worked hard on expanding the reach of 4G technology. The company’s 4G footprint has crossed 400 cities in India making Airtel the widest 4G network in the country. “We also embarked upon a bold network transformation initiative — ‘Project Leap’, involving a cumulative investment of Rs 60,000 crore ($9 Bn) over three years. During the year, we completed one of the largest site deployment initiatives in the world rolling out over 87,000 new sites,” Mittal informed the shareholders.

Tackling the Future

Bharti Airtel has already announced investments of Rs 2,000 crore over the next three years to improve its in-store experience by redesigning over 2,500 stores across the country. Airtel is also rewarding its loyal customers by allowing them to carry forward their unused data to the next billing cycle or pooling of postpaid plan within a family and providing protection for smartphones against damage.

Bharti Airtel’s managing director and chief executive, India and South Asia, Gopal Vittal says, “VoLTE trials are on in five cities. We will be able to take VoLTE everywhere by the end of this year.”

On the philanthropy side, Bharti Foundation expanded the ambit of its initiatives during the year. Its rural sanitation initiative Satya Bharti Abhiyan, launched last financial year, is already being hailed as one of the most successful private sector initiatives in the country in rural sanitation said Mittal. “Our education-related initiatives are today reaching out to over 73,000 underprivileged rural children. Similarly, the rural sanitation initiative Satya Bharti Abhiyan has already constructed and delivered over 12,700 household toilets benefiting over 63,000 users in 559 villages in Punjab’s Ludhiana district. Airtel Africa’s ‘Adopt a School’ initiative is today reaching out to over 27,000 students with over 700 teachers,” said Mittal in the annual report.