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Vi reports 11.8% revenue decline, industry economics under spotlight

Ravinder Takkar Vodafone.jpg

India's Vodafone Idea reported a revenue decline of 11.8% quarter on quarter in its Q4 financial results this week.

The figures from Vi showed average daily revenue (ADR), adjusted for interconnection usage charges (IUC), was flat quarter on quarter. Vi reported a revenue decline of 11.8% – 9.6% with domestic IUC adjustments – however, 4G net additions reached 4.2 million, boosting the subscriber base to a total of 113.9 million. Vi said ARPU was "broadly flat this quarter" while net debt stood at Rs. 1,799.6 billion.

Vi MD and CEO Ravinder Takkar (pictured) said: “FY21 has been a transformational year for Vodafone Idea with several important milestones achieved including launch of our unified brand Vi. In the year of the pandemic, when people and businesses were hugely dependent on telecom connectivity, we delivered superior network experience and improvement in several operating metrics supported by Vi GIGAnet.

"We enter FY22 with renewed focus on executing our strategy to keep our customers ahead, and our cost optimisation plan remains on track to deliver the targeted savings. We are in active discussion with potential investors for fund raising, to achieve our strategic intent," he continued.

Hurdles ahead  

Despite Takkar's relative optimism – and his mention of "active discussions" – reports emerged yesterday stating that five days before the financial results were published, Vi wrote to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to request an extra 12 months to meet spectrum costs.

Reports of this development have also stated that Vi claimed investors were unwilling to back the business without tariff increases.

The disconnect between users and revenue was also highlighted by Sunil Bharti Mittal yesterday, the chairman of rival Bharti Airtel, during a virtual press conference for OneWeb.

On the industry-wide issue, Mittal is quoted as saying that investors "believe that unless there is a significant improvement in consumer tariffs, the health of the industry will not recover and they will incur a loss on their investment".

To balance its own books, Vi is engaged in an ongoing cost optimisation exercise. This measure followed "targeted merger opex synergies of Rs. 84 billion".

"We target to achieve Rs. 40 billion of annualised cost savings by end of this calendar year. Through several initiatives, we have already achieved ~65% of the targeted annualised savings on a run-rate basis by the end of Q4FY21," Vi's statement continued.

Performance

On performance, according to TRAI Vodafone Idea had the best voice quality between November and April and, according to Ookla, Vi GIGAnet has been the fastest 4G network in India for three consecutive quarters.

During Q1, India conducted its first spectrum auction since the market shrunk to three players. Despite raising $11 billion for the government, only 60% of the spectrum on offer was purchased with bids struggling to exceed the floor price, and some spectrum bands left entirely unsold.

Vodafone Idea acquired 23.6 MHz of spectrum across 900 and 1800 MHz in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, UP East, UP West, and West Bengal at an aggregate value of Rs. 19.93 billion and optimised its holdings in other areas. Post-auction, Vodafone Idea's overall spectrum holding is 1,768.4 MHz across different frequency bands out of which 1,738.4 MHz spectrum is liberalised and can be used towards deployment of 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G.

On this point, the press announcement stated: "We continue to invest in 4G to increase our coverage and capacity and We have also started to actively upgrade our 3G network to 4G."

Mobile infrastructure and service

Boosting microwave backhaul Vi added around 43,500 4G Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD) sites primarily through refarming of 2G and 3G spectrum to expand 4G coverage and capacity.

To date, the operator has deployed more than 62,000 TDD sites – although these are more expensive than FDD – in addition to the deployment of 13,600 Massive MIMO sites and 12,600 small cells.

Vi said: "Our overall broadband site count stood at 452,650 as of March 31 compared to 436,006 a year ago. We have shut down over 30,000 3G sites during the year while we added over 47,000 4G sites.

"We continue to expand our LTE 900 presence in 11 circles at select locations, including through dynamic spectrum refarming, to improve customer experience."

Reporting that one billion Indians live in its coverage areas, Vi added: "These network investment initiatives continue to deliver a significant capacity uplift throughout the year, enabling us to offer superior customer experience. Our relentless pursuit to have the best 4G network in the country, through integration and incremental network investments post-merger, are clearly visible through our top rankings in various third party reports."