India’s ailing telecom industry may not recover this year but it will “perhaps” stop bleeding, billionaire tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal said.
“I would say given the lay of the land, 2019 should be a year of stopping the dreadful decline. Will it be a year of recovery? Possibly not,” the chairman of Bharti Airtel Ltd. told BloombergQuint on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland. “This is a year where you have to invest more, get out more into the market for 4G, compete in the new marketplace, hold on to the market share, hold on to your better customer.”
“This will be the year of perhaps haemorrhaging stopping.” – Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Airtel Ltd.
Mittal said the only reason he’s slightly unsure of a recovery is because Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. is dictating the market prices. “Eventually, one player is playing a low-tariff, high subsidy game. It has to be his call.”
For the Indian telecom industry, 2018 was a year of continued pain. Ever since Ambani waded into the sector with his upstart Jio, average telecom revenues and profitability have been on the downslide, spurring consolidation.
The industry, which now comprises three large players with similar customer bases, has to now work towards getting the average revenue per user up, Mittal said. He said that Airtel has now stopped fighting the tariff war and has also increased the bottom slab of tariff. “There’s got to be a minimum ARPU coming in. Even for Reliance Jio, their minimum pack is Rs 50, there’s nothing below that. So you’ll have to keep taking the lower table up.”
He said the people who are “gouging” a lot of data will have to start paying up more eventually. “They were comfortably giving Rs 500-800 earlier. You’ll have to do the right segmentation, give them Netflix, give them Amazon [Prime], give them Zee and other content like Wynk music and get the ARPUs up. And you will see within 2019 the trend of ARPUs going up,” he said, adding how much ARPUs go up. And you will see within 2019 the trend of ARPUs going up,” he said, adding how much ARPUs go up will depend on the market forces.
Last Man Standing
The billionaire chairman, whose company last year lost the top spot in the telecom market to Vodafone-Idea Ltd., said that he will not focus on the rankings but instead work towards offering quality services.
“I don’t think it matters whether you are number one or two. I think what matters is you need to be a viable, solid player,” Mittal said. “I’ve always given an example of Kotak Mahindra Bank. I don’t know what number it’s at. But it’s considered as a premier foremost bank. Great bank, great customer services, that should be our role model within the three players regardless of the number of customers you have.”
Changing Telecom Landscape
Ambani has been modelling Reliance Jio on the likes of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Inc. and Walmart Inc. by sprawling his empire into content and e-commerce.
Mittal said he will not take that approach. “We don’t want to make investments in areas we don’t understand.” Instead, he said Bharti Airtel will focus on securing partnership with content providers and e-commerce companies.
“We are partnering with Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Zee and Eros. So we are becoming the partner of choice as a telecom carrier from where all the content providers will play out. That’s our strategy,” he said. “And then similarly in e-commerce if that plays out. There are enough e-commerce companies that will seek us out.”
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