Back With a Bang
Business Today|November 29, 2020
Back With a Bang
Bharti Airtel is in a sweet spot again, thanks to tariff hikes last year, digital gameplan and relentless focus on winning quality customers
MANU KAUSHIK

It’s not hard to figure out where a company is headed. Among other things, it requires paying attention to words of its leadership team. In Airtel’s case, there are compelling reasons to believe that the company wants to shed the tag of a telecom firm and be known as a digital services company. CEO and MD (South Asia and India) Gopal Vittal emphasised on this at the latest conference call with investors, there was ample prior evidence of the company’s ambitions. For instance, the number of times Vittal mentioned ‘digital’ during earnings call jumped from zero in June 2018 quarter to four in December 2019 quarter to 28 in March 2020 quarter.

“We are maniacal about morphing ourselves into a digital services provider by riding on our core strengths and building this virtual flywheel... I see all this coming together to make Airtel more meaningful for customers than ever before,” Vittal told investors during the earnings call.

It is clear that Airtel is building a new narrative around itself. There are largely three levers for this transformation: pandemic-led change in the telecom ecosystem, a similar shift at arch-rival Reliance Jio and search for new revenue sources. For instance, Airtel’s digital platform is a bouquet of services and products either developed in-house or through partnerships. The telco has been silently building digital assets over the past three years, a domain where it employs over 1,200 people.

And markets are happy with the makeover. Airtel has made a comeback into the top 10 of BT500 companies after staying out for seven years. If analysts are to be believed, it is a lasting comeback.

“Airtel seems to be in a sweet spot. The consolidation in the telecom sector followed by last year’s increase in tariffs, improvement in internal metrics such as ARPU [average revenue per user], solid 4G customer additions and lower churn indicate that Airtel is back in the game. The company’s three-year growth trajectory looks strong,” says Bhupendra Tiwary, telecom analyst at ICICI Securities. The turnaround has been a result of careful planning and execution.

Focussing on Strengths

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November 29, 2020