Bharti Airtel is working on a comprehensive strategy under which it will offer entry-level smartphones with affordable EMI options and bundled voice and data plans to prepaid subscribers as the country’s second-largest telecom operator tries to check flagging revenues, impacted by a brutal price war, by encouraging feature phone users to upgrade their devices.
Under this strategy, Bharti will expand the online store to its more than 326 million prepaid subscribers. It is working with handset manufacturers, financial institutions and content providers to expand the store and offer smartphones in Rs 4,000-10,000 range, people in know of the development said.
Conceptualised during Mobile World Congress 2017, Airtel Online Store is a venture on the device side with the objective to create a platform offering devices, mobility solutions (tariff plans) and finance. Bundled plans along with affordable EMI options help increase customer stickiness and allows them not only to upgrade to a smartphone of their choice but also enjoy benefits like large dollops of data, unlimited calling, roaming, free content subscription, among others.
“Online store earlier catered only to postpaid subscribers, but Bharti is working to expand it to prepaid ones too, which will come in very soon. They are in talks with handset makers, who contribute to almost 78% of the Indian market. There are plans for offering EMIs for entry-level smartphones too, but it has not been finalised as of now and will depend on discussions with partners,” they added.
Considering a majority of prepaid subscribers are voice users with feature phones, most of the smartphones in the store are out of their reach. Hence, Bharti is working with multiple lenders to solve the affordability issue through innovative digital lending methodologies that allow credit to be given to people without a credit rating via loans from banks, a senior official with a leading lender said.
At present, Bharti offers loans to postpaid subscribers in partnership with HDFC Bank, Federal Bank, Clix Capital and Seynse Technologies.
Recently, online store started offering smartphones to prepaid subscribers. Presently, it has 3 such offers on Nokia 6.1, Nokia 7Plus and Oppo F9Pro. The cheapest is Nokia 6.1, which is priced at Rs 17,499 and is available at a down payment of Rs 4,599 with an EMI of Rs 1,275 per month for 12 months. Users who avail this offer will get a tariff plan offering 1.4GB 4G data per day, 100 SMS daily and free calls. Bharti Airtel’s chief marketing officer Vani Venkatesh told FE, “We launched the online store in October 2017. It is an integrated platform that makes it easier for customers to upgrade to smartphones they always aspired for, without the constraint of high put-down prices and cumbersome financing schemes.”
She, however, did not comment on the company’s plans for expanding the store, but added, “The store has been a great learning curve for us. Not only are we making it easier for millions of customers to upgrade to devices they always wanted, we are also making the entire process seamless and simple through digital technologies.”
A top executive with a leading operator said that companies have started focusing on prepaid subscribers, especially Reliance Jio and Bharti, who are coming out with various offerings. This is pertinent as the next revenue generator will be this segment when users upgrade from voice only to voice and data services.
Also, in order to monetise different revenue streams, subscribers become the biggest priority and larger the base, more are the opportunities operators will have to monetise content and services, which means a stronger revenue stream, he added.