Bharti Airtel Rides Boom in Indian Mobile Market

Operator Bharti Airtel reported on Thursday strong growth in revenue and profits, taking advantage of a continuing boom in India's mobile telephony market.

The company, which is the largest mobile services provider in the country, said that revenue for the quarter ended June 30 was 99.4 billion Indian rupees (US$2 billion at the exchange rate on the last day of the quarter), up by 17 percent from revenue in the same quarter in the previous year.

Profits in the quarter grew by 24 percent to 25 billion rupees.

Bharti Airtel added 8.5 million new subscribers during the quarter, taking the total to about 105 million subscribers. About 102 million of these subscribers were for the company's mobile services, with the balance coming from its fixed telephony and broadband services business.

India has added over 10 million new mobile subscribers every month, despite the economic slowdown. Consumers see communications as a necessity, analysts said.

In May, the latest month for which figures are available, India added 11.6 million new mobile subscribers, up by 35 percent from additions in the same quarter in the previous year, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The country had 415 million subscribers at the end of May, TRAI said.

However, average revenue per user (ARPU) and the utilization of mobile phones by consumers fell, reflecting competition and tariff cuts, as well as the economic slowdown.

Bharti Airtel's ARPU in the quarter ended June 30 dropped to 278 rupees from 350 rupees in the same quarter a year ago. Average minutes of use per user dropped to 478 minutes in the quarter from 534 in the same quarter in the previous year.

Data from TRAI also showed declining ARPU and utilization by consumers, across service providers, in the first quarter of this year.

Bharti Airtel's non-voice revenue as a percentage of mobile revenue was 9.3 percent, down from 9.7 percent in the same quarter a year ago, reflecting a declining uptake of value added services by mobile users.

Bharti Airtel is scouting other markets outside India. It said in May that it had revived merger talks with MTN Group in South Africa. The two companies have agreed to discuss the proposal exclusively until July 31.

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