Bharti Airtel Has Fought a Formidable Force in Industry Setting an Example for Telcos

Starting with Airtel Payments Bank, OTT services and creating a resilient ecosystem for the customers the Sunil Bharti Mittal led telecom operator has survived and possibly emerged as a winner in the last few years of the industry.

Bharti Airtel

Reliance Jio’s foray into the Indian telecom industry will probably be shelved as one of the most game-changing moments for the company and its competitors. However, the tides are turning fast in this game, and the red-icon of the Indian telecom industry, which was feared to be on the back-foot, is making an extremely meteoric comeback. While Reliance Jio has certainly made pragmatic decisions that checked a lot of boxes for the consumers, the same can be said for Bharti Airtel. The company had to adjust to a drastically distinct marketplace within a matter of months, and it has surely left its mark. Behind Bharti Airtel’s moves, there’s a bundle of learnings which the telecom operators can look up to.

Airtel Payments Bank

Bharti Airtel was the very first to capitalise on the opportunity of opening up a payments bank to give customers a holistic banking solution. The timing of Airtel Payments Bank actually coincided with the government’s digitalisation drive. Although many other payments bank cropped up, and several UPI-enabled payment systems penetrated the market. The capacity to hold on to people’s bank accounts, transactions and providing them with a safe and secure banking experience favoured the telecom operator almost half a decade ago.

Bharti Airtel seems to be charting a similar path on the B2B front this time with Airtel Ads. The parallel between the launch of Airtel Payments Bank and Airtel Ads seems to be the proper policy-public environment. While the former made a reeling entry during the emphasis on payment digitalisation and banking reforms, the current emphasis by the public-exchequer on ease-of-doing-business and a conducive business environment is favouring Airtel Ads. Companies are bound to require advertisement, especially when demand is scarce in today’s situation. Again, Bharti Airtel has proven that its strength lies in looking the way where no one else is looking.

Bharti Airtel Ecosystem

Much before Reliance Jio was luring customers with its JioFibre plans, Bharti Airtel had crafted a very attractive ecosystem of its services combining wired broadband connections, Airtel Xstream streaming services, bundled with other OTT platforms and its mobile services. The combination of all these services was not only facilitating easy migration to Airtel’s platform but was also allowing the customers to avail discounts which deepened Airtel’s capacity and balance sheets.

This, of course, is reflected in Bharti Airtel’s massive ARPU jump and its retention of high-paying quality subscribers as opposed to Reliance Jio’s slightly fading active subscriber base.

The recent Trai reports clearly highlight that Bharti Airtel’s total active subscriber base rose to 340 million, and with the loss of 0.2 million active users, while Jio’s total active subscriber base dipped to 324 million. While industry experts were sceptical about Bharti Airtel’s move, which stood in contrast to Jio’s policies, it suffices to say that they have emerged victorious and proven that customers are ready to pay for services, provided they get the quality which was promised to them.

The Spectrum Rollouts

The next front where Bharti Airtel seems to be snowballing fast is spectrum rollout. Soon after acquiring a few blocks in the March auction, the telco is on a streak of deploying spectrum in strategic locations to boost capacity and even slowly building up an appetite for 5G trials as well. Bharti Airtel has deployed 20 MHz airwaves of the 2300 MHz band in Haryana, in addition to 25 MHz spectrum in Punjab. While these are contentious competitive territories for all telcos, the special edge for Airtel happens to be in North East and Assam, where the telecom operator has strategic interests.

Learnings and Way Forward

Bharti Airtel’s rise from difficult situations will surely go in the books as an iconic case study. However, Jio’s infliction still continues in the market and has taken an upturn since the introduction of JioFibre. Since Bharti Airtel’s wired broadband subscribers have been a major source of revenue for the telco, it will be a worth-watching battle as to how Bharti Airtel tackles it.

Despite that, Bharti Airtel’s ability to look elsewhere in a sparsely crowded market and its bets on quality over quantity has paid off. This is something that the public sector, as well as private telecom operators, can keep in mind. Similar to how Jio has been compartmentalising its holdings to better its corporate governance, Bharti Airtel is in the footsteps in a barebones fashion. This will undoubtedly lead to streamlined management and possibly faster innovation inside the company, translating to a propelled growth.

Arpit spends his day closely following the telecom and tech industry. A music connoisseur and a night owl, he also takes a deep interest in the Indian technology start-up scene and spends rest of his time spilling poetry and stories on paper.

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