Bharti Touts Profits, Spectrum

Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), India's largest mobile operator, continued its growth path in the fiscal third quarter, racking up a 42 percent increase in both revenues and profits. (See Bharti Airtel Reports Q3.)

The operator reported net income of 17.22 billion Indian Rupees ($437 million) on revenues of INR69.64 billion ($1.77 billion), roughly in line with, but slightly ahead of, analysts' expectations of INR17.07 billion ($433.4 million) net income on revenues of INR69.31 billion ($1.76 billion).

Bharti added a record 6.29 million mobile subscribers during the quarter to end the year with 55.16 million customers, 73 percent higher than at the end of December 2006. That gave it a market share of 23.6 percent, up from 21.8 percent a year earlier.

In total, India's mobile operators added 24.57 million subscribers during the quarter.

The carrier also has 2.18 million fixed-line and broadband subscribers for a total subscriber base of 57.34 million.

The rise in mobile subscribers offset a fall in average revenue per user from INR427 ($10.84) to INR358 ($9.09) per month. The carrier's operating profit margin rose from 41.51 percent to 42.94 percent, while its net profit margin slipped from 22.15 percent to 21.45 percent.

ARPU is likely to decline further as Bharti makes what it called "aggressive expansion plans" in rural India, where users tend to spend less on mobile services. The operator aims to expand its network coverage from 68 percent of the Indian population to 70 percent by the middle of this year. Latest estimates put India's total population at more than 1.1 billion people.

Bharti recently stirred up the market by introducing a rock-bottom one rupee local call plan aimed at India's 700 million rural residents.

But the carrier will also save on network costs in coming quarters as Akhil Gupta, joint managing director, told reporters today that it has been allotted additional spectrum in five of the 10 regions in which it had applied, and is expecting the government to award frequency for the other five in the coming months. That will allow it to add capacity rapidly and ease pressure on its network operations to accommodate subscriber growth.

Investors had been concerned Bharti was being left out of the latest round of license and spectrum awards, and its share price suffered. (See Indian Gov't Grants Mobile Licenses and India: Licensed to Thrill.)

Bharti's share price closed INR1.9 (0.2%) higher at INR852.3, after climbing as much as 2.8 percent on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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