In Sept ’21, the sector’s subscriber base fell by 21m MoM on Bharti & VIL’s tariff hikes and subscriber clean-up by Reliance Jio. While Jio led on active subscriber adds, Bharti’s 4G adds were the highest. Despite losing share in H1FY22, Bharti has raised tariffs twice in the past 4 months in the prepaid voice segment, reflecting its growing focus on ARPU. This may affect Bharti’s net adds but will boost revenues and margins. Maintain Buy on Bharti.
Reported subscriber base falls: In Sept’21, the sector’s reported subscriber base fell by 21m to 1,166m; however, active subscribers rose by 4m to 966m. Reliance Jio had the highest active subscriber addition, of 4.7m; however, it lost 19m on a reported basis. Bharti Airtel added 0.3m reported subscribers and Vodafone Idea (VIL) lost 1.1m/0.8m reported/active subscribers.
4G subscribers decline due to Jio: 3G/4G subscribers fell by 19m in Sept due to 19m subscriber decline reported by Jio. While Bharti Airtel added 1.2m 4G subscribers, Vodafone Idea lost 1.2m 4G subscribers. Smartphone 4G subscribers fell by an estimated 13m in September after staging a sharp recovery in July and August. Bharti gained a 75bps share in 3G/4G subscribers in Sept.
Jio – Subscriber clean-up drives decline: The sharp decline in Jio’s reported subscriber base in September was expected as Q2 numbers were already out. However, a healthy increase in active subscribers suggests that this was mainly due to a subscriber clean-up by Jio. Post the clean-up, Jio’s share of active subscribers has risen to 84% – its highest in 27 months – but remains below Bharti’s 98% and VIL’s 87%.
Bharti – Tariff hikes hit net adds: Bharti Airtel’s subscriber base was nearly flat m-o-m as a rise in urban subscribers was offset by a fall in rural subscribers. The fall in rural subscribers stemmed from tariff hikes in the prepaid voice segment. 4G subscriber additions at 1.2m moderated m-o-m but were highest among peers. Bharti added 0.6m/0.8m active subscribers in Metros/A-circles but posted a 1.1/0.3m decline in active subscribers in B/C Circles.
VIL – Subscriber decline continues: Vodafone Idea’s 1.1m reported subscriber decline was led by rural markets. The company lost subscribers in 16/22 markets in September. VIL also reported a 1.2m decline in its 3G/4G subscriber base in September and has added just 2.5m 4G subs over the past year. This is in stark contrast to Bharti and Jio’s 40m and 21m 4G sub additions, respectively.
Bharti’s focus on 4G/ARPUs: In H1FY22, while the sector’s active subscriber base has been flat, Jio has added 24m active subscribers, largely from VIL, while Bharti’s active sub. additions have been muted at 2.5m. However, Bharti has outperformed on 4G with 15m adds vs Jio’s 2m. This implies that Jio is taking share in the prepaid voice segment due to its JioPhone offer launched in March’21. Despite this, Bharti has raised tariffs twice in this segment, implying a focus on high-ARPU subscribers.