With free services, we will have a much higher market share: Airtel CEO

Bharti Airtel
Bharti Airtel aims to increase its share of 4G (fourth-generation) devices through a calibrated approach, rather than offering freebies like Reliance Jio.


The Sunil Bharti Mittal-led company has about 49 million broadband (3G+4G) customers. Jio has garnered over 120 million customers since its launch last September.


Free voice and data services by Jio were among the reasons for the rapid growth of customers on its network. Although the Mukesh Ambani-owned company has started charging for services, its tariffs are cheaper than those of its rivals.


“We are well positioned to pick up a higher share of 4G devices. If we start giving everything for free, we will have a much higher market share than Jio, but we do everything through a calibrated approach. We are forced to compete to grow our market share,” Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive officer (India and South Asia), Bharti Airtel, said during an investors’ call on Wednesday.


Vittal said Airtel was offering competitive tariffs, the reason for revenue erosion and drop in data and voice realisation.


He said the 3G network in India would shut down faster than in other countries because of a good 4G ecosystem. “India will one day come to a situation where 2G and 4G networks will work simultaneously and 3G networks will shut down,” he said. Asked if Airtel had plans to shut down its 3G network in the near future, Vittal said, no.


On plans for providing handsets on the lines of Jio, Vittal said Airtel did not brand handsets nor did it subsidise them. “We will find ways to bundle and not rely on subsidies,” he added.


Vittal said Airtel’s interconnect usage charges (IUC) payout had increased because traffic from other operators to its network had risen. However, the asymmetry with Jio continues, with Airtel receiving 90 per cent incoming traffic from Jio. On when Airtel would start voice over LTE (VoLTE) services, Vittal said the company was conducting trials and the company would take VoLTE everywhere towards the end of the financial year.


He said after the tariff war ended, the market would consolidate with three players apart from the government-run operator.


A JP Morgan report has indicated the company is moving towards stability in a turbulent market. It said Airtel’s India wireless revenues at Rs 129 billion were stable quarter-on-quarter and blended average revenue per user (Arpu) at Rs 154 was a tad down q-o-q, indicating stability. “We saw a noticeable increase in data subscribers for the second quarter after a decline in December 2016, data revenue growth was at 2.7 per cent q-o-q and data Arpu was at Rs 156 (vs Rs 162),” JP Morgan said.

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