Bharti Airtel, after losing millions of subscribers in the first two-quarters of this fiscal, had gained 16 lakh subscribers in the month of November. The company’s subscribers saw a positive uptick for the second consecutive month after gaining 81,974 subscribers in October 2019, according to data released by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Meanwhile, Vodafone-Idea witnessed the highest dip in its subscriber count in FY20 by losing 3.64 crore subscribers. The company had added 1.89 lakh subscribers in October last year.
While the addition of subscribers might be a small win, the company has major troubles lurking for next week. Hit by an apex court verdict mandate, Airtel is expected to clear its outstanding dues of Rs 35,586 crore to the department of telecommunications (DoT) by January 24. To pay all dues, the company has chosen to use proceeds from qualified institutional placement (QIP) along with an overseas bond to repay government dues. Bharti Airtel has recently raised $3 billion from the QIP to meet this liability. The fund raised is expected to help Airtel have some leverage in order to survive the competitive domestic telecom market. The telecom market has undergone a major disruption after the entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm. Jio brand single-handedly brought down data prices to such an extent that many companies decided to either shut shop or be acquired.
With 9 days left to repay dues, Airtel has expressed disappointment stating that long-standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bonafide and genuine. “The industry continues to face severe financial stress and the outcome could further erode the viability of the sector as a whole. The industry needs to continue to invest in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing New Technologies like 5G,” said the company’s spokesperson. According to Airtel, the money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on the penalty which forms nearly 75 per cent of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country. Currently, the domestic telecom market is largely dominated by three players- Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio.