"Airtel’s 25 year growth story is synonymous with India’s telecom revolution and we are immensely proud of having built an institution that has empowered hundreds of millions of Indians with affordable connectivity."
The world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economies, businesses and our way of life has been disrupted and the road to recovery is likely to be a long one. While I remain highly optimistic that we will soon have a vaccine, the world will have to adjust to the new normal.
In this backdrop, telecoms and digital technologies have become the bedrock of our lives – be it work from home or virtual classrooms, telecom networks are ensuring that the world does not come to a standstill. Telecom is the oxygen for the digital world.
Serving the customers
I say this with immense pride that since the time of COVID-19 lockdown, your company has gone the extra mile to keep India connected over its digital backbone. While one billion people stayed safe in their homes during the lockdown, Airtel’s network engineers and field staff worked tirelessly on the ground to make sure that our networks run seamlessly.
True to our DNA of innovation and agility, Airtel’s team of 15,000 people was able to transition to remote working and stay obsessed with delighting customers. From building digital channels for customer services to rolling our innovative peer to peer mobile recharges, Airtel stepped up the game when it mattered the most. And I, on behalf of all of you, want to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for their efforts.
To strengthen the nation’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, your company also responded to the clarion call made by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.
- Bharti Enterprises, including its companies Bharti Airtel, Bharti Infratel committed a sum of over ₹ 100 crore for India’s fight against COVID-19. A significant portion of this corpus was contributed to the PM - CARES Fund. The balance was directed towards sourcing of masks, PPE and other key equipment for the doctors, healthcare workers and essential services personnel who are at the forefront of this massive battle.
- In addition to the H 100 crore committed by Bharti Enterprises, the employees of Bharti Airtel also made personal voluntary contributions towards this cause and the amount was matched by your company.
25 Glorious Years
2020 will also mark 25 years of Airtel’s exciting journey. The Airtel growth story is synonymous with India’s telecom revolution and we are immensely proud of having built an institution that has empowered hundreds of millions of Indians with affordable connectivity.
From mobile services in just one circle to becoming a leading global telecom company with operations in 18 countries across Asia and Africa over these years, Airtel now ranks amongst top 3 mobile service providers globally in terms of subscribers and has become a force to reckon with in emerging markets telecoms with its network covering billions.
My congratulations to all of you on this milestone and thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey. We have now all the building blocks in place and are uniquely positioned to support an open digital ecosystem. I feel confident that our best lies ahead and that Airtel will be a key stakeholder in driving the digitally connected world of tomorrow.
The industry requires more support
While it’s clear that the worst may be behind for India’s telecom industry, we are yet to emerge from the woods. India still has some of the lowest data tariffs globally and the industry is barely able to cover the cost of capital. It requires much more support to repair the deep damage to its finances and make it viable for telecom operators to invest in future technologies.
A welcome change during the COVID-19 lockdown was telecom being declared as an essential service by the Government of India. The industry has finally got some of the recognition it deserves and given the commendable job it has done to keep India connected, I hope the Government will look into the urgent needs of the operators. Though the recent tariff increase has provided some cushion to the industry, we are still way below the levels to make the industry viable. The government must also look at rationalizing the levies on the sector and close long standing legal disputes that are a big drag on performance of operators.
These urgent interventions will ensure that we have a viable industry with 3+1 structure, which is essential for serving the digital aspirations of a billion plus Indians.
Strong performance by Airtel
Your company moved forward strongly this year on its strategy of customer delight and solid market execution by offering new products, content services and seamless experience across all touch points. The company’s large investments towards building future ready networks, data centers plus its sharp focus on quality customers is beginning to reap dividends.
- Multiple globally renowned experts have consistently rated Airtel as India’s top mobile network. This is another validation of our superior network execution. We remain committed to taking high speed mobile broadband to every corner of the nation and enable a Digital India.
- Digital Transformation has been a big agenda for Airtel and today virtually every process of the company is leveraging the power of digital. We remain ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing in the latest technologies and thereby serve our customers better through digital platforms.
- As always, we continued to drive deep collaborations to enable a world-class experience for our customers. Be it Amazon, Netflix, Zee, Star, Eros, HDFC, Bharti AXA, Apollo Hospitals and a wide number of start-ups in the retail segment; and the likes of Cisco, Zoom, Google, Microsoft and AWS in the enterprise segment.
Alongside the operational strength, there was an undivided attention towards strengthening the balance sheet in a timely manner. The year witnessed massive fund raise initiatives by your company totalling over USD 8 Bn, including rights issue (USD 3.6 Bn), Airtel Africa IPO (USD 674 Mn), Perpetual bond (USD 1 Bn), QIP (USD 2 Bn) and FCCB (USD 1 Bn). Now, with a strong balance sheet accompanied by a best-in-class network and a robust spectrum portfolio, Airtel is well positioned to capitalize on future opportunities.
Moving to the African operations, which crossed several milestones during the year including listing on London & Nigerian Stock Exchange and crossing the 100 Mn subscriber mark. Airtel Africa continued its growth trajectory and strong performance across geographies and segments- voice, data and mobile money. The company continued investing in market leading networks as it drives the dual agenda of connectivity and financial inclusion.
As a responsible corporate, we continue to focus our efforts on driving sustainability and uplifting the communities we operate in. Bharti Foundation, the Group's philanthropic arm, with its school education programs continues to ensure holistic education for over 274,000 underprivileged children in rural India. While schools across the country were closed during the lockdown, our teams continued to work remotely through the use of technology to ensure education is not disrupted for any child. Satya Bharti Abhiyan, the rural sanitation initiative in the state of Punjab, has benefitted over 185,000 people, enabling the State to declare an Open Defecation Free status in the districts of Ludhiana and Amritsar. Our CSR initiatives in Africa are centred on enabling digital access for youth empowerment and for healthcare. Airtel Africa also responded to COVID-19 by contributing funds to governments across the countries we operate, in addition to the supply of masks for the healthcare workers. Furthermore, Bharti Enterprises, through its joint venture with Softbank, is becoming a major force in the renewable energy space in India, thereby contributing towards the cause of the global climate agenda.
Coming back to the remarkable journey of airtel, the last 25 years have seen their fair share of challenges and achievements, all of which have been inspiring and fulfilling at the same time. I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to our Board of Directors, Management, resilient employees and our esteemed customers, partners, suppliers, entire distribution network and our shareholders. As a Company, we remain committed to create long-term sustainable value for all our stakeholders.