Airtel CEO reveals 4G investment is paying off

Airtel India CEO Gopal Vittal has revealed the strategies that assisted the telecom operator to take the number of mobile data customers on its 3G and 4G networks to nearly 98 million.
Airtel India mobile data subscribers in 2018Airtel has added over 7.5 million 4G subscribers in the September quarter of 2018 on its all-India network.

The telecom operator’s 66 million are on 4G network accessing high-speed mobile data on their smartphones.

This number is not comparable with Reliance Jio’s 200 million plus subscriber base because several millions of the customers are using JioPhone phones that have limited data functions limiting customer experience.

Analyst reports on Airtel indicates that its mobile data customer base reached 97.666 in September quarter from 94.783 million in June quarter, 86.077 million in March quarter, 70.836 million in December quarter of 2017 and 65.769 million in September quarter of 2017.

Airtel India’s 4G subscriber base on smartphone customers reached 65.731 million in September quarter of 2018 as compared with 58.281 million in June quarter and 28.306 million in September quarter of 2017. Reliance Jio introduced 4G in September 2016 and achieved its first 100 million in September 2017.

Gopal Vittal in a recent analyst call said that the company is not competing on feature phone market and the focus is adding smartphone customers.

Airtel is trying to be the lowest cost operator in the country. “While other cost line items have been largely flat, network costs have seen some increases in this quarter due to macro factors including the hike of diesel due to the weaker Rupee,” Airtel CFO Nilanjan said.

Airtel strategies

Airtel focused on data pricing, content, network quality, addition of smartphone customers to its mobile data network.

First, Airtel Thanks, a digital program, ensured free benefits to all Airtel customers who commit a monthly ARPU of Rs 100 and above. Additional benefits include access to digital content, offers on smart phones and online shopping vouchers. This has assisted Airtel to ensure that customers are opting for a minimum ARPU of Rs 100 as well as reduction in churn.

Second, the challenge for Airtel was to enhance ARPU from its data customers by offering high quality content. Airtel, as part of its mobile VAS strategy, signed content deals with Netflix, Zee5, Amazon and NDTV HOP.

Airtel customers received free access to Netflix for next months. Zee5 offered select premium original series and movies on Airtel TV.

Third, Airtel tried to add maximum number of smartphone buyers to its network. It used its own online store and partner programs to attract customers to its mobile network.

India ships around 10 to 12 million smartphones per month. Out of this, 8-9 million users buy smartphones for upgrading from feature phones.

Airtel tapped opportunities in 4G smartphone buying market and could grab share in 4G space by adding over 7.5 million 4G subscribers in three months competing with Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea.

Airtel has launched the most attractive cash back offer for the existing customers on buying a new smart phone. Airtel has offered cost effective 4G smartphones and bundled data plans to add long-term users ensuring steady ARPU.

Fourth, Airtel has deployed over 27,000 mobile broadband BTS to enhance network quality. Ookla, the global leader in speed test, has rated Airtel as the fastest mobile network in India — fourth time in a row.

Fifth, Airtel could retain its post-paid revenue share of the market due to aggressive pricing policy. The revenues on post-paid segment have been under pressure because of the movement into lower ARPU plans.

Airtel has shifted its focus to 4G from 3G. The Airtel management team has realized that the contribution of 3G devices to revenue it is almost negligible. Airtel is adding 4G customers in top 1,000 towns. Airtel believes that rural areas will start shifting to 4G soon. Airtel’s 4G coverage is growing and will touch 150,000 sites.

Baburajan K