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After six quarters of losses, Bharti Airtel Ltd returned to the black in the December quarter because of a one-time gain from the merger of its tower subsidiary and Indus Towers Ltd.

India’s second-largest telecom operator on Wednesday reported a consolidated net profit of 854 crore for the three months ended December. It had posted a loss of 1,035 crore in the year-ago period.

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It reported a one-time gain of 9,449.6 crore from the merger of its subsidiary Bharti Infratel Ltd with Indus Towers. Before this exceptional item, Airtel posted a consolidated loss of 298 crore in the third quarter.

The company’s revenue jumped 24.2% year-on-year (y-o-y) to an all-time high of 26,518 crore in the third quarter, as key metrics such as average revenue per user (Arpu) improved because of robust customer addition in the wireless segment and re-farming of 2G users to 4G. Arpu increased to 166 during October-December, up from 162 in the September quarter and higher than the 135 in the year-ago period.

“Arpu for the quarter came in at 166 compared to 135 in Q3’20, an outcome of our focus on acquiring quality customers as well as secular upgrading of customers to data," the company said.

The company’s revenue from mobile services in India increased 32.4% y-o-y because of improving realization combined with strong customer additions. It added 12.9 million 4G customers during the quarter, a 33.8% rise y-o-y, to reach a total of 165.6 million.

The telco has added about 42 million subscribers in the past four quarters. Average usage per data consumer was 16.4GB/month, while voice usage was 1,027 minutes/customer per month. Airtel India’s customer base was around 336 million as of 31 December.

“This consistency in performance was across every part of our portfolio, as reflected in market share growth across all our business segments…The highlight of the quarter was the ~13 million 4G customers we added in our wireless business," said Gopal Vittal, chief executive officer, Bharti Airtel.

Airtel’s postpaid business also grew, adding about 700,000 customers in the quarter. Its home business segment recorded a revenue growth of 2.3% y-o-y with the highest ever subscriber addition of 215,000 during the three months.

The telco reported consolidated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (Ebitda) at 12,178 crore for the December quarter, up from 8,812 crore a year ago. Ebitda margin was at 45.9% during the quarter, an improvement of 464 basis points y-o-y.

The capex of the telco during Q3 FY21 was 6,864 crore, up from 5,022 crore a year ago. Of the total capex, India accounted for 5,391 crore, while it was 1,382 crore for Africa.

Separately, the board of the company approved fundraising of up to 7,500 crore through debt instruments such as debentures and bonds in one or more tranches.

The company’s net debt, excluding lease obligations, increased to 1,150 billion in the December quarter from 874 billion a year ago.

“This included an AGR (adjusted gross revenue)-related liability recognized on the balance sheet of 248.4 billion. Consolidated net debt for the company, including the impact of leases, stands at 1,474.4 billion as on 31 December 2020," the company said.

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