Aggressive network rollout continued to be an overriding priority for us as a record
mobile sites were rolled out during the year to strengthen our 4G footprint
Aided by strong growth in most advanced and emerging markets, global economy stayed on course in its rebound mode during the year. Overall, our company experienced favorable economic environments in both India and Africa. While India recovered remarkably well from the prolonged dissonance caused by demonetization, which was undertaken in FY 17, and the teething troubles of Goods and Service Tax (GST) introduced during the current year, African economies benefited from stability in currencies and commodity prices, which resulted in healthy balance of payment situation in many countries.
Digital technologies and internet are pivotal to transformation happening around us – social, industrial, economic. Global telecommunications industry, which lies at the heart of this transformation, too is undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts; operators are transforming from pure play telecom to being digital services providers – integrating connectivity and content across multiple screens. New technologies like IOT, AI, Block chain and big data analytics are likely to make these networks the primary facilitator of change in future. Affordable smartphones, which have become the predominant gateway to internet for customers across age groups and geographies, and rapidly proliferating 4G networks helped accelerate market transformation during the year. It was particularly evident in India where average data consumption per user went up by nearly six times to over 6GB per month in Q4 (FY18) from about 1GB in Q4 (FY17). African
markets too exhibited buoyancy where average usage on our networks expanded by about 90%.
The telecom industry faced an extraordinarily turbulent year in India through unprecedented disruption. Extreme pricing pressure accelerated market exits and industry consolidation, which evolved towards a 3+1 structure (3 private telcos + 1 public sector telco). Even though the transition is turning out to be stressful entailing massive dislocation in the short run, the new industry structure will ultimately prove beneficial for the sector. We have done well to capitalize on emergent opportunities from this industry shakeup. While we completed the acquisitions of Tikona and Telenor, the proposed merger with the consumer business of Tata Teleservices Maharashtra and Tata Teleservices is under regulatory approval.
Our strategy of growing our share of high ARPU customers and improving customer stickiness by offering new products and content services helped us increase our revenue market share in a rapidly consolidating market undergoing significant Aggressive network rollout continued to be an overriding priority for us as a record 110,000 mobile sites were rolled out during the year to strengthen our 4G footprint “Affordable smartphones, which have become the predominant gateway to internet for customers across age groups and geographies, and rapidly proliferating 4G networks helped accelerate market transformation during the year.” Bharti Airtel Limited Integrated Report and Annual Accounts 2017-18 revenue shrinkage. It was gratifying to see the way we held ourselves as pressure mounted on the topline of our mobility business. Aggressive network rollout continued to be an overriding priority for us as a record 110,000 mobile sites were rolled out during the year to strengthen our 4G footprint. This will help us stay ahead of competition through enhanced data capabilities and better customer service.
Sharply improved EBITDA margins in Africa to
in FY 2017-18 from 24% last year
Acceleration in non-wireless businesses remained an unmistakable bright spot for us during the year. DTH and B2B business registered healthy double digit topline growth, thus highlighting the inherent advantages of a diversified business portfolio. The Payments Bank had a good start but faced issues in KYC authentication leading to disruption in acquiring new customers. The Bank with a new CEO and enhanced preparedness is now geared to get back on track towards the goal of driving financial inclusion in the Country.
In Africa, it turned out to be a defining year for us. Sharply improved EBITDA margins to 33.4% from 24% last year enabled us to achieve full year PAT for the first time since acquisition.
Modernised data networks - 3G networks in all 14 countries and 4G networks in 8 countries (6 of them rolled out this year) - facilitated a surge in data consumption in different African markets. Simplified voice and data bundles coupled with robust distribution and a refined cost model helped us achieve operational excellence in different markets. Data revenues expanded by over 22% during the year. Airtel Money too continued to be a key revenue pillar growing by 47% during this period.
In-country consolidation with a clear intent to become No. 1 or No.2 operator continued to be a strategic imperative for us. While we merged operations with Millicom in Ghana to form a 50:50 joint venture, we acquired Millicom’s business in Rwanda to become a viable No. 2 in the market.
We undertook several initiatives to raise capital to support our business plans. During the year, we divested around 150 million shares in our subsidiary Bharti Infratel through secondary sale for a consideration of over ₹ 5895 crore. We also issued nonconvertible debentures worth up to ₹ 3000 crore on a private placement basis. I am pleased to inform you that the board of Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) B.V. has authorised the management to initiate non-binding exploratory discussions with various intermediaries to evaluate the possibility of listing the Africa operations on an internationally recognized stock exchange.
Bharti Foundation, our group philanthropic arm extended the reach of its activities significantly during the year. Its school education programs are today cumulatively reaching out to nearly 250,000 students across 13 states in India. I am particularly delighted to inform you that during the year Bharti Foundation embarked upon its most ambitious Higher education initiative till date to set up Satya Bharti University, a world class institution to offer free education to deserving youth from economically weaker sections of society. The sanitation program, which is already serving over 90,000 beneficiaries, moved into its second phase under which the Foundation is providing financial assistance to beneficiaries to construct household toilets. Airtel Africa’s ‘Adopt-a-School’ Program is now supporting over 32,000 underprivileged children in 58 adopted schools in different countries. The Company has also scaled up its Internet for Schools initiative to benefit over 300,000 students in Kenya and Zambia. We plan to scale this up significantly over the next year.
Personally, it turned out to be an exciting year for me in my concurrent global roles - Chairman, ICC and Chairman, GSMA.
As a business entity, we have always believed in staying ahead of the curve with regard to adopting best practices in transparency and corporate governance. In line with this philosophy, we have embraced Integrated Reporting (IR) and the present report is the first Integrated Report for us.
Telecom markets across emerging economies are in transition. While life cycles of 2G and 3G are getting truncated, 4G is taking rapid strides. Market structures are getting reshaped with fewer players to facilitate these investments. With our strong balance sheet and robust spectrum portfolio across markets, we are well positioned to make the best of this transition to come out stronger.
Sunil Bharti Mittal