Airtel becomes world’s third largest mobile operator

With 303 million mobile subscribers, Airtel surpasses China Unicom

Shauvik Ghosh
First Published30 Jun 2015
Airtel has hit the 300 million mobile subscribers mark just six years after hitting the 100 million subscribers mark in 2009. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint<br />
Airtel has hit the 300 million mobile subscribers mark just six years after hitting the 100 million subscribers mark in 2009. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd said on Tuesday that with 303 million mobile subscribers it had become the third largest mobile operator in the world, surpassing China United Network Communications Group Co., Ltd. (China Unicom), a state-owned telecom operator.

“As per the latest data published by WCIS (World Cellular Information Service), Airtel, with over 303 million mobile subscribers, across its operations, has moved up one position in the global rankings,” a statement from India’s largest telecom service provider said. China Unicom has 299.09 mobile subscribers.

WCIS is a research and data service for telecom companies and is the key product of data analysis firm Informa Telecoms and Media (ITM) Research.

As of April-end, the bulk of the 20-year-old Bharti’s wireless subscriber base—228.25 million--was in India, according to the latest data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The rest were in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and 17 countries in the African continent.

Bharti became the fourth largest mobile phone company by subscribers in 2012, surpassing Carlos Slim’s America Movil, according to the Bharti statement. It has hit the 300 million mobile subscribers mark just six years after hitting the 100 million subscribers mark in 2009.

It is now behind Vodafone Group Plc by 100 million mobile subscribers. The largest telco in the world is still China Mobile, a state-run telco with 626.27 million mobile phone subscribers.

Bharti also offers fixed line, DSL (digital subscriber line) and DTH (direct to home) television services. Combined with these, the company crossed the 300 million subscribers mark last year. Its mobile networks cover over 1.85 billion people across 20 countries and carried over 1.23 trillion minutes of calls and over 333 petabytes of data in the last financial year.

“The subscriber numbers are a sign that they have a strong business case. But the point of concern is the revenue. Vodafone posted revenues of more than 43 billion pounds ( 4.3 trillion approximately) for the last financial year. Bharti is nowhere near with its $15 billion ( 92,000 crore). Africa still continues to bring down profitability and their ability to go into new markets is also hampered by this,” said a telecom analyst with a Mumbai-based multinational brokerage firm who did not want to be named.

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