India’s Bharti Airtel beats Q1 revenue view on 4G subscriber growth

By Nishit Navin

BENGALURU (Reuters) -Bharti Airtel, India’s No.2 telecom carrier by users, posted a bigger-than-expected rise in quarterly revenue on Thursday as it signed up more subscribers for its higher-priced 4G services and benefited from tariff hikes in its base plans.

Airtel, market leader Reliance Jio and other telcos have a dual focus of migrating more customers from 2G to 4G and subsequently to 5G to grow their premium user base and of raising tariffs that have long been stagnant.

Airtel added 5.6 million 4G subscribers from April to June, taking its total 4G customer count to 229.7 million, which is 2.5% higher than in January to March. These subscribers account for 70.4% of all its subscribers, up from 65.2% a year ago.

The company’s average revenue per user (ARPU), a key metric for telecos, rose about 9% year-on-year to 200 rupees, helped by the addition of premium 4G customers and tariff hikes on its base plans earlier this year. Jio’s ARPU was 180.5 rupees.

Airtel’s total revenue increased 14.1% to 374.40 billion rupees ($4.53 billion) in the first quarter, beating analysts’ estimates of 366.24 billion rupees, according to Refinitiv IBES.

However, its net profit was flat at 16.13 billion rupees due to a one-time charge of 34.16 billion rupees on the devaluation of the Nigerian currency.

Nigeria is a major market for mobile services in Africa, which contributes to around 30% of Airtel’s revenue.

Last month, Reliance Jio, the telecommunication arm of conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd, reported its slowest revenue and profit growth in six quarters due to stagnant tariffs.

Indian telecom companies have spent massively in acquiring 5G spectrums and rolling out services across the country.

Earlier this week, Airtel said it prepaid 80.24 billion rupees to the Indian government to partly clear deferred liabilities for airwaves it acquired in 2015.

Airtel shares, up 8% so far this year, ended 0.7% lower ahead of the results. ($1 = 82.6960 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Nishit Navin in Bengaluru; Editing by Janane Venkatraman and Savio D’Souza)