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BW Businessworld

Sharing Brings Joy

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It was the best of times. In the four years ending March 2012, India’s mobile telecom base rose by a massive 659 million to touch 919 million subscribers. Bharti Airtel had spun off Bharti Infratel as an independent tower company just before this boom. Riding on the expanding subscriber base, telecom towers in the country rose from 2.58 lakh to 3.76 lakh during 2008-’12.

Bharti Infratel is among the tower companies that made the most of the growth in the telecom sector. The towers that originally catered to only Bharti were opened to all. The firm saw revenues almost double from Rs 5,050 crore (FY09) to Rs 9,452 crore (FY12). In the process, its tower tenancy (average number of operators to a tower) touched 1.85 (2012), higher than the industry average of 1.70.

As of September 2012, Bharti Infratel has 34,220 towers, apart from a 42 per cent stake in Indus Towers (the world’s largest independent tower company jointly owned by Bharti Infratel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular) that has over 1.10 lakh towers. Including its stake in Indus Towers, Bharti Infratel has an economic interest in over 80,000 towers. That is more than the other large tower companies — Reliance Infratel (50,000 towers) and Viom Networks (42,000). Says Akhil Gupta, MD and vice-chairman at Bharti Infratel: “By taking a contrarian stand that infrastructure needs to be shared among operators, we created an entirely new industry. That has yielded dividends.” Sharing of tower infrastructure came in handy for new telecom operators. With tariffs falling, it helped operators keep a check on costs.

Bharti Infratel also managed to pull off a successful initial public offering in December 2012, raising Rs 4,118 crore. But where does it go from here? With operators set to roll out 3G and 4G services, the tower company is in a sweet spot. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 20-05-2013)