A boy plays soccer in front of a painted advertisement for Bharti Airtel Ltd. displayed on the sides of a building in Murthal, Haryana. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Bharti Airtel Raises 4G Capex Plan To Rs 25,000 Crore For FY18

India’s largest telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd. will invest Rs 25,000 crore for expanding and strengthening its 4G network during the current financial year, instead of Rs 20,000 crore announced earlier.

“Considering the data explosion in India... to accelerate our 4G roll out in terms of coverage and also build additional capacities in existing geographies..our capex forecast for the year is being upped from initial guidance of Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 25,000 crore,” Bharti Airtel Chief Financial Officer Nilanjan Roy said during an post-earnings call yesterday.

The company also said that it is likely to shut down its 3G network in 3-4 years and re-farm the spectrum linked with it for 4G services.

There is almost no spend that we are doing on 3G. Our view is in next 3-4 years we are likely to see 3G network actually shut down faster than 2G network because there are still 50 percent of phone being shipped out in India that are feature phones.
Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO (India And South Asia), Bharti Airtel

He said that the company is investing in 4G technology to build more data capacity in the network.

The company will use the 2100 megahertz band, used for 3G services, for 4G services.

“Where we have the second carrier of 3G or third carrier then through flip of software you get incremental capacity on 3G. Most of that spectrum will finally go towards 4G for which we will need to have radio units,” Vittal said.

He said that in some telecom circles the company has installed modern 3G equipment which can support 4G services but the initially deployed equipments for 3G services will need to be replaced.

“Some of the older radios are pure 3G which we need to replace. It will take its time. I think that the answer for that will be function of how fast pick up of voice happens on VoLTE (4G voice call network). The moment that happens voice will not be required to be carried on 3G which can help refarm us 2100 megahertz for 4G,” Vittal said.

The telecom major on the previous day posted sixth straight quarter of drop in earnings as its consolidated net profit plunged 77 percent to Rs 343 crore for the September quarter, compared to Rs 1,461 crore it registered in the same period a year ago.

However, it recorded four-fold growth in the mobile data traffic during the reported quarter in India, and its mobile broadband customers rose by 34 percent to 55 million.

An Airtel representative on the call said that revenues will be further hit to the tune of 4 percent of its consolidated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, or around Rs 300 crore in the ongoing quarter, due to the reduction in mobile call connection charges to 6 paise applicable from Oct. 1.

Mobile companies charged 14 paise a minute for allowing a domestic call from a rival operator to terminate on their network before Oct. 1. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the body which determines it, has slashed it to 6 paise per minute from Oct. 1.

The consolidated revenues for the just-ended quarter, at Rs 21,777 crore, represented a year-on-year drop of 10 percent (a drop of 12 percent) on an underlying basis when adjusted for Africa and Bangladesh divested operating units and tower asset sale.

In a separate development, Airtel announced the transfer of its optical fibre business to its wholly-owned subsidiary Telesonic Networks for a valuation of up to Rs 5,650 crore.