The country’s largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, will spend Rs 25,000 crore on capex in the next financial year, with majority of the spend to be utilised in India, where the company is in the midst of launching VoLTE services, as well as on expanding its network. “For next year (FY19), definitely I think we will be the same ballpark (Rs 25,000 crore). I don’t see any marked reduction for another year. Then of course we will have to see how do capacities build up, at least for next year it will be in the same ballpark,” Bharti Airtel’s group CFO Nilanjan Roy said. Addressing an analyst call, he said the company believes in advancing the future capex spends to provide best and widest broadband data coverage, which in turn will augment Bharti’s growth and market share ambition. Bharti’s managing director and CEO (India & South Asia) Gopal Vittal also said, “Next year will also see an elevated level of capex”. “We had a capex of Rs 25,000 crore for India and Africa for this fiscal (FY18). We may be slightly higher than this because there is so much of equipment coming in. It could probably be Rs 1,000 crore or Rs 1,500 crore higher than this at the year-end just because of the sheer quantities of equipment coming in every month,” Roy explained.
He further said, “We remain committed to capex plans considering the explosion in data traffic in India. We have expediently spent Rs 22,500 crore over the last three quarters to accelerate our 4G roll out in terms of coverage and also build additional capacity in existing geographies along with fibre connectivity and backhaul.” So far, Bharti’s VoLTE services are up and running in 7 circles and the company expects to take this pan-India within this fiscal (by March 2018). “More than 80 popular smartphones support Bharti’s VoLTE services. We have deployed over 88,000 mobile broadband base stations over the last 12 months, the highest by a telecom operator in India in a single year,” Roy said.
On sector outlook, Vittal said the worst in erosion of average revenue per user is over, but the next 9-12 months will witness heightened competitive intensity in the market. On response to Jio’s 4G feature phone, Vittal said though its still early, but the initial response has been “tepid”. He, however said Bharti’s ‘Mera Pehla Smartphone’ initiative has witnessed a “very very disproportionate increase”.