The country’s largest telecom operator, the Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel was hit hard on all the fronts for the second consecutive quarter during the January-March period, which was the second full quarter after the full-fledged commercial launch of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm, which was offering free services to its consumers during this period. As a result, not only did the company miss analysts’ estimates on all the fronts but saw its net diving to lowest in the last four years.
Net profit saw a sharp decline of 26% on a sequential basis to Rs 373 crore, missing analysts’ estimates, while total revenues were down 6% at Rs 21,935 crore. Ebitda was down 6.7% sequentially at Rs 7,993 crore while margins declined to 36.4% from 36.7% in the preceding quarter.
The company, which reported an exceptional loss, lower revenue and weak operational performance, was candid enough to blame Jio’s free services for its woes. “The sustained predatory pricing by the new operator has led to a decline in revenue growth for the second quarter in a row. The telecom industry as a whole also witnessed a revenue decline for the first time ever on a full-year basis. The deteriorating health of the industry was compounded by the tsunami of incoming voice traffic from the new operator as a result of which significant investments had to be made just to carry the incoming traffic on our network,” Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, India & South Asia said in a statement.
Bharti is already in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, where it has challenged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s passive approach towards Jio’s free services, which it contends is not allowed under regulations.
With the launch of Jio’s free services, Bharti has adopted a strategy of offering more data at the same price and bundling it with free voice in some packages, which has resulted in a sharp decline in data realisation. It is quite apparent that while customers are using data with usage increasing, it is not resulting in higher revenues. During the quarter, data realisation per MB was down 32.1% sequentially, the highest so far. Data usage per customer, which had been witnessing slower rate of growth though increased 36.9% sequentially to 1,331 MB during the quarter. Average data realisation per user was down 32.1% at 12.20 paise while average revenue per user was down 7% at Rs 162 on a sequential basis.
The story is no different on the voice front where Arpu was down 7.2% sequentially at `114 while realisation was down 17.5% at 24.28 paise. For the past several quarters the company was slowly but steadily improving its realisation by curbing freebies but that has got changed since the October-December quarter, which was after the commercial launch of Jio, and the same has happened during the January-March quarter. While the minutes of usage increased 12.4% sequentially at 471 minutes and the total minutes on network also saw a 15.5% increase to 381,236 minutes, it is quite clear that these are not yielding revenue.
Interestingly, despite the free service challenge from Jio, Bharti is not losing its subscribers as the monthly churn during the quarter was down to 3.6% compared with 4.1% in the preceding quarter. Its data customer base in fact increased by 4.5% to around 57 million.
Data as a percentage of mobile revenues, which had been growing for the past several quarters but took a hit during the October-December quarter, was once again hit as it declined to 21.5% from 22.8% in the preceding quarter.