New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd’s net profit fell 78% in the March quarter as the telecom regulator slashed international call termination charge and a brutal tariff war triggered by the entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd continued unabated.

Net profit fell to Rs83 crore in the three months ended 31 March from Rs373 crore in the year earlier, India’s largest telecom operator said in a statement on Tuesday.

This is the company’s lowest quarterly profit in nearly 15 years, a Reuters report said.

Telecom operators, already reeling from a fierce price war that started with the entry of Reliance Jio in September 2016, were hit hard in the December quarter after the telecom regulator’s decision to slash interconnection usage charges (IUC) levied by mobile networks handling incoming calls from rival networks.

Later, in another blow to operators, the regulator also cut the international call termination charge from 53 paise a minute to 30 paise a minute, effective 1 February. The termination charge is payable by an international long distance operator to the Indian telecom operator on whose network an overseas call terminates.

“The India mobile business has posted a loss on EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) level at Rs482 crore. They have been able to show an overall profit as cost rationalisation is saving the company. Also, the company recorded a net tax credit of Rs300 crore in Q4, which has inflated the net profit. If you look at the ARPU (average revenue per user), it is Rs116; the market was expecting Rs118," a Mumbai-based telecom analyst said on condition of anonymity. “Overall, the outlook for the sector looks negative and the pricing pressure is here to stay for few more quarters."

Consolidated revenue dropped to Rs19,634.3 crore in the March quarter from Rs21,934.6 crore in the year earlier. Pricing pressure is evident from the fact that Airtel’s data customer base rose 50% from a year earlier to 86 million users in India in the quarter.

“The telecom industry continues to witness below cost, artificially suppressed pricing. Industry revenues were further adversely impacted this quarter due to the reduction in international termination rates," Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive of (India and South Asia) at Bharti Airtel, said in a statement.

Things started souring after Reliance Jio launched services in September 2016 with six months of free data and voice, followed by ultra-cheap tariffs. Airtel has since recorded a fall in net profit for six straight quarters as it reduced prices to compete with Jio.

Consolidated Ebitda fell 12% year-on-year to Rs7,034.1 crore in the quarter ended March, Airtel said. Ebitda is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Airtel’s March quarter revenues from India fell 7.5% year on year to Rs14,796 crore on an underlying basis, primarily due to a drop in mobile business, the company said.

Airtel’s monthly ARPU (in India) fell sharply to Rs116 in the March quarter from Rs158 a year ago. The number of minutes spent on calls on its network, however, grew 55% in India during the quarter while the total data consumed on its network rose more than 584% from a year earlier.

The company’s consolidated net debt has increased to Rs95,228 crore from Rs91,714 crore in the December quarter.

For the year ended 31 March, consolidated revenue fell 9.8% to Rs83,688 crore, the company said, while profit fell 71% year on year to Rs1,099 crore.

Performance of the company’s Africa unit has saved the company some blushes. In constant currency terms, Africa revenues for the March quarter grew 10.7% year-on-year, as data traffic grew 88%, voice minutes increased by 37% and Airtel Money throughput grew 45% on a yearly basis, the company said.

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