Airtel associates with local, global firms to make India 5G tech development hub

CIOReviewIndia Team | Tuesday, 10 August 2021, 11:41 IST

Airtel associates with local, global firms to make India 5G tech development hubBharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said he was hopeful that the government and the regulators will take “long overdue” steps to ensure the telecom industry continues to have “3+1” structure, alluding to the government being able to save the beleaguered Vodafone Idea from going under.

Airtel was well positioned to launch 5G services in the country given the large investments it had already made into the technology, Mittal said in the company’s annual report which was sent to the stock exchanges Tuesday. He added that the company aimed to collaborate with domestic as well as global companies to make India a hub for 5G technology development.

On new opportunities, Mittal said as the Indian economy digitises further, large opportunities ahead in data centres, submarine cable deployment, cloud services and cyber security would emerge in future. Airtel on its part was on its way to become a truly digital-first company to serve Digital India.

Mittal said the company possessed the ability to develop world-class platforms and digital solutions on the back of its in-house engineering talent and strong partnerships with global majors including Amazon, Google, Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Cisco and Apollo Hospitals.

“Unsustainable pricing and low returns in a highly capital-intensive environment, coupled with legacy legal issues, have extracted their toll,” Mittal said in the company’s annual report which was sent to the stock exchanges Tuesday.

A “3+1” industry structure refers to the three private and one public sector telcos currently operating in India.

Mittal, whose remuneration for 2020-21 almost halved to Rs 16. 1 crore from over Rs30 crore last year, backed Aditya Birla Group (ABG) chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla’s request to the government to raise tariffs in the sector. ABG is a co-parent of loss-making Vodafone India, along with UK’s Vodafone Group Plc.

The Airtel chairman said as telecom’s role in the economy grows to become more pervasive, challenges 'loom larger'.

“The industry requires long overdue support to maintain its current 3+1 industry structure and allow players to earn a respectable return on their investments. I am hopeful that the Government and the Regulators will step in to ensure there is adequate balance in the industry and it remains a viable place for continued investments,” Mittal said.

His comments come within a week of Birla stepping down as the chairman of Vodafone Idea. On June 7, Birla had warned the government to act swiftly; else the telcos would go down.

Despite the challenges faced by telcos in the country, Mittal said that India continued to be a promising destination for long-term investors.

In order to transform India into a global leader in the digital economy he said, “we must continue to evolve our policies to realise these opportunities while encouraging investments, entrepreneurship and innovation through collaboration.” Airtel is ready to play its part, he added.

Amidst the sectoral challenges, Airtel’s revenue market share (RMS) had touched record highs, while the telcos was leading the industry on key metrics such as average revenue per user (ARPU) and data usage. “We continue to have a very healthy balance sheet with enough and more headroom to continue investing strategically for our growth….we believe that we have all the building blocks for the next phase of our growth.,” he said.

Airtel has raised more than $15 billion over the last few years through a combination of instruments including equity, convertible bonds, perpetual bonds, monetisation to private equity / strategic investor.

Mittal said that Airtel had demonstrated "remarkable resilience" and, in fact, came out "much stronger" during the last financial year which saw the outbreak of the global pandemic.

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