"#airtelThanks turned out to be an extremely successful initiative in this regard helping us deliver greater value to customers in terms of content and services."
Global economic growth moderated during the year in the midst of several developments like the US-China trade confrontation and the overhang of uncertainty around Brexit in Europe. While US remained an exception exhibiting sustained momentum, China continued to slowdown. India - our primary market, with initial implementation challenges of its historic federal tax reform of GST recovered well during the year registering over 7% GDP expansion. Our African markets witnessed healthy recovery in GDP growth led by a rebound in the Nigerian economy. Overall, the Company experienced moderate economic condition in both the geographies.
Global industry evolution gained rapid traction during the year as 4G networks expanded at great pace and the emerging markets moved forward towards high speed mobile broadband for all. Exponential growth in smartphone penetration and low tariff sharply accelerated growth in data consumption. We witnessed significant changes in usage behavior in different markets. Massive surge in video consumption continued to be the mainstay of galloping data usage.
While per capita data consumption nearly doubled in India, usage expanded by over 40% in Africa.
We witnessed varying business dynamics during the year in the two regions - India and Africa - given different market conditions. While the Indian mobile market firmly consolidated into a 3+1 industry structure, revenues for the sector did not see any uptick during the year and continued to witness an ultra-low tariff regime. High overall industry debt continues to be a major concern. Africa on the contrary, continued its upward trend and robust revenue growth and profitability to register a healthy year.
In India, amidst conspicuous pricing pressure, we did well to retain our market share by focusing on â€˜revenue paying customersâ€™ and orienting ourselves towards mid to high end of the market. The introduction of the minimum commitment plans helped us register significant recovery in ARPU towards the end of the year.
Indian mobile market firmly consolidated into a
Overall, the initiatives are today benefiting over
students in India’s far flung villages
In the face of rapidly changing customer needs and consumption, we remained focused on digital innovations to remain the network of choice. #airtelThanks has been an extremely successful initiative helping us deliver greater value to customers in terms of content and services. We believe content partnerships will play a major role in customer acquisition and retention in the coming days and the industry will increasingly gravitate towards collaborating with producers of content.
Airtel Africa had a robust year on all parameters. With the addition of 10 million new customers, the count reached 99 million. Total revenues witnessed strong growth aided by significant expansion in data revenue (31%) and Airtel Money (60%). EBITDA margin expanded by 4% underlining the efficacy of our efforts in operational efficiency. Exponential increase in 3G and 4G sites in different markets further strengthened our network coverage and quality. We now have 4G presence in 11 out of the 14 markets. Robust growth in Airtel Money infrastructure and coverage during the year augurs well for this rapidly growing revenue stream.
We believe, the momentum in 4G is going to continue for a few more years across different markets. Emerging markets like India and Africa today are some distance away from launch of 5G networks. But rapid strides of new technologies like AR, VR, IOT and AI and sharply proliferating data usage in customer lives, no matter what development level they are in, can trigger an accelerated transition across markets. As a Company, we have always believed in staying ahead of the curve as far as adopting new technology is concerned. With our reinforced balance sheet we are ready to take the lead subject to enabling regulatory environment, a complementary technology ecosystem-network and device, and overall market dynamics.
During the year, Airtel completed the acquisition of Telenor (India) following all regulatory and statutory approvals. We also completed the merger of the Consumer Mobile Businesses of Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) and Tata Teleservices with Bharti Airtel and Bharti Hexacom. Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers and their respective shareholders and creditors entered into the final phase of scheme of amalgamation and arrangement to create a pan India Tower Co, the largest tower company in the world outside China. We also entered into an agreement to merge Airtel Kenya with Telekom, subject to regulatory approvals.
The year witnessed multiple rounds of successful fund raising through equity infusion by both Bharti Airtel Limited (Airtel) and Airtel Africa plc (Airtel Africa). While Airtel successfully completed its first ever and amongst the largest Rights Issue in the Country to raise H 249.4 billion, Airtel Africa completed its Initial Public Offer (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange in the premium listing segment at an offer price of 80 pence/share to raise $ 750 million at an overall equity valuation of US$ 3.9 billion, with a secondary listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Earlier during the year, seven leading global investors comprising Warburg Pincus, Temasek, Singtel, SoftBank Group International, Qatar Investment Authority and others had invested $1.45 billion in Airtel Africa through primary equity issuance.
Ben Verwaayen, completed his tenure on the Board during the year, we thank him for his service to the Company and also welcome Kimsuka Narasimhan who has joined the Board as an Additional Independent Director. Airtel Africa Board was constituted during the year having a great mix of competence and experience.
The Group philanthropic arm Bharti Foundation extended the reach of its school education programmes to newer regions. Overall, the initiatives are today benefiting over 2,50,000 students in Indiaâ€™s far flung villages, and being widely acclaimed as one of the largest privately run initiatives in school education in India. The Satya Bharti Abhiyan, our rural sanitation initiative, operational in the State of Punjab has a total beneficiary count of over 1,75,000 today. Airtel Africaâ€™s CSR initiatives are oriented towards local priorities in the countries we operate in. Our initiatives in Africa are largely driven by our belief that our interventions in the areas of spreading digital awareness among youth and children, healthcare, youth empowerment can result in meaningful development and welfare in these countries.
The world is moving towards a digital future where telecommunication will play a pivotal role. As countries move further on their digital path, telecom companies will come across numerous opportunities to contribute towards enabling this journey. As a Company, we will continue to approach every opportunity with speed and proactive care for our customers, and ensure they continue to be at the heart of everything we do.
Sunil Bharti Mittal