India needs a 3-player telecom market, says Airtel MD and CEO

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on February 06, 2020

Says industry hopeful of constructiveengagement with judiciary on AGR

India needs a three-player market and Vodafone India will remain operational, according to Bharti Airtel officials. The industry’s average revenue per user (ARPU) needs to move up further to ensure viability of the sector, they added.

“On Vodafone, I think my view is that they will remain... I wish that they will thrive. India needs a three-player market. It’s a large enough market place to absorb three players. I think it will be good from all perspectives — investment, jobs and reputation — that Vodafone survives and thrives,” Gopal Vittal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of India & South Asia at Bharti Airtel, said in a post-earnings analysts call.

Vittal also said that the industry was hopeful of a constructive engagement with the judiciary and the government on the AGR issue.

He, however, declined to provide further comments as the matter was “sub judice”.

On ARPUs (a financial metric for telecom companies), he said it need to move up further.

“We continue to believe that the industry ARPU needs to move up further to ensure viability of the sector, especially at a time when the incumbent players are saddled with a large regulatory burden, and yet have to continue to invest towards next-generation networks and 5G,” Gopal said. The industry ARPU needs to move to about ₹300 in the long term to provide a right balance between customer escalation and sector investments, he added.

Bharti Airtel has also shut down 3G in 11 circles and refarmed spectrum to support 4G services, said Badal Bagri, Chief Financial Officer at Bharti Airtel.

“We have sub-gigahertz spectrum in 11-12 circles. Most of it has been fired up 2100 band; it will be all refarmed by March,” he said.

On the 4G customer addition front, Airtel customer acquisition had gained a “strong momentum” in the last quarter due to some changes in tariffs in October and November.

Airtel has 1.90-lakh towers, almost all of which support 4G broadband.

No capex guidance

Bharti Airtel’s capex had hit a peak of about ₹24,000 crore two years ago, and it has been consistently lower since then.

“There may be some increase in capex in the immediate future, but overall, it will be significantly lower than the peak capex from a competitive standpoint,” Vittal said, without giving any guidance.

Published on February 06, 2020

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