Bharti Group chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said that the bloodbath in the Indian telecom industry is continuing and margins for all telecom operators are under pressure. Mittal told Hindu Business Line that “there will be some let-up in the next 6-8 months because ultimately three operators will be left.”
In a separate interview with the Times of India, he said that the sector would remain in the turmoil until the newcomer [Reliance Jio] signals peace. “It’s up to him. He has a strong balance sheet, but we are equally determined to stay at number one position. Maybe March 2018, or surely by March 2019, it has to settle down with three operators,” he said.
The telecom czar also urged the Indian government to not impose spectrum usage charge and licence fee on the auctioned spectrum. “They should be benign if not zero. Why would you want to sell and then rent? Other (demands) are right of way and sighting of towers because, in State governments/municipalities, there are still a lot of problems. The Centre is very supportive, but in States, there is no law/policy to smoothen these problems. Finally, make spectrum more affordable,” he told Business Line.
Mittal also urged the government to lower the price for the super premium 700 MHz band. “The price was absolutely out of line (last time), and that is why nobody bought it. I think it should be much lower than that. I think all spectrum must go down, all bands must go down,” he was quoted as saying.
Mittal also lauded the telecom regulator’s recommendations on spectrum cap, and said, “I think they should have raised it to 50% in each band, but 35% is also a good move.”
The top executive said that Bharti Airtel wouldn’t lose its top spot in the Indian telecom market even after the Vodafone-Idea combine comes into existence. “Tata’s 4% and Telenor’s 2.5%, make it 6.5%. Even if we take only 3.5% out of that, we will be at 37.5%, and Voda-Idea will be around 40%. They have to lose 1.5%, and we have to gain 1.5%. We are already gaining ground in the market. We are determined,” he told TOI.
Mittal said that Airtel’s focus on the quality of service, 4G investment and expansion, along with digital and payments bank services would help the telecom operator to stay on top of the market.
“We have lower margin and our revenue is down but within that smaller revenue pie, we are gaining. Nine operators are gone and their revenues are getting distributed, we are picking more than others. Even in RCom we are getting 45% of the port-outs. The brand is pulling,” he said.