India’s Vodafone Idea reports wider Q1 loss on weak 4G subscriber growth

BENGALURU (Reuters) – India’s Vodafone Idea reported a wider first-quarter loss on Monday, dragged by weak 4G subscriber growth and higher expenses.

The company’s consolidated loss after tax stood at 78.40 billion rupees ($942.8 million) for the quarter ended June 30, compared to a loss of 72.97 billion rupees a year ago.

Formed in August 2018 as a merger between the Indian arm of UK’s Vodafone and Aditya Birla Group’s Idea Cellular, the telecom operator has posted a loss in every quarter since, as subscribers increasingly switched to rivals Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio.

The company’s average revenue per user (ARPU), a key metric for telecom firms, rose to 139 rupees from 135 rupees last quarter and 128 rupees in the year-ago quarter, helped by “subscriber migration to higher ARPU plans”, it said.

Airtel’s ARPU was at 200 rupees while Jio’s ARPU was at 180.5 rupees.

Vodafone Idea’s 4G subscriber base, too, barely inched up 0.2% to 122.9 million sequentially; its overall subscriber base shrunk to 221.4 million from 225.9 million sequentially.

Its expenses rose 4% year-on-year to 185.13 billion rupees, outpacing a 2.4% rise in revenue to 106.56 billion rupees, while net debt stood at 2.12 trillion rupees as of June 30.

Burdened with massive government debt and spectrum dues, Vodafone Idea has been unable to ink a fundraising deal. In April, billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla returned to the company’s board, raising hopes that the Birla Group might infuse money.

“We remain engaged with our lenders for further debt fundraising as well as with other parties for equity or equity-linked fundraising to make required investments for network expansion, including 5G rollout,” CEO Akshaya Moondra said in a statement.

Airtel reported it beat its June-quarter revenue estimates earlier this month, while Jio reported its slowest revenue and profit growth in six quarters last month.

Shares of Vodafone Idea settled 0.6% lower ahead of the results.

($1 = 83.1614 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Varun Vyas and Nishit Navin in Bengaluru; Editing by Varun H K and Janane Venkatraman)