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Coronavirus-led work from home led to a 58% year-on-year rise in data consumption during the September quarter, said Bharti Airtel Ltd chief executive Gopal Vittal on Monday.

As companies continue to work remotely amid the covid-19 pandemic, India’s second largest telecom operator signed up new 4G customers who want quality services. Airtel recorded a sequential growth of 14.4 million in 4G data customers at 152.7 million during July- September, while it was 48.1% higher than the same period last year.

“Our focus on building the most aspirational brand in Indian telecom to win quality customers is delivering results. Our data consumption grew by 58% yoy which reflects strong engagement of customers on our network," said Vittal.

With a rise in data consumption and more customers joining Airtel’s network, the telecom operator’s average revenue per user (Arpu) rose to 162 from 128 in the same quarter last year, and 157 in April-June, resulting in highest-ever quarterly revenues.

The consolidated revenue of the telecom major grew 22% yoy to 25,785 crore in the September quarter. The telco now has 440 million subscribers across 16 countries.

“The company continues to garner a strong share of the 4G net ads (additions) in the market. 4G data customers increased by 48.1% to 152.7 million compared to the previous year, while traffic increased to 77.3 PB (petabyte)/day vs 48.9 PB/day in the corresponding quarter last year," the Sunil Bharti Mittal company said in a statement.

However, the telco posted a consolidated net loss of 763 crore for the September quarter due to higher expenses including network operating cost, license fee and spectrum usage charges, and an increase in finance cost.

Airtel had reported a consolidated net loss of 23,045 crore in Q2 FY20. A Bloomberg poll of 10 analysts had estimated a profit of 121.60 crore during July-September.

While total expenses rose 15% from a year ago to 14,143 crore, net finance cost was up 28% yoy at 3,7,26 crore led by increase in charges such as additional regulatory liabilities and decrease in investment income, the company said.

The telco’s consolidated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) rose to 11,848 crore from 8,936 crore in the year-ago period. Ebitda margin was at 46% during the quarter, representing an improvement of 366 basis points yoy.

“We stay committed to improving the profitability of the business. Our continued focus on Arpu improvement and cost optimization led to Ebitda margin expansion by over 158 bps in the quarter sequentially," Vittal said.

Airtel reported strong growth across segments—mobile, home and digital services. While revenue from mobile services in India was up 26% yoy, that of homes services grew 7.3%. “Digital services is now among the strongest in the country," Airtel said.

Total capex for the quarter increased to 6,791 crore from 3,901 crore a year ago.

The telco said it has already paid more than 10% of its total adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues as ordered by the Supreme Court on 1 September. According to DoT estimates, Airtel owes 43,980 crore in AGR dues. It has already paid 18,004 crore.

“The group has represented to the DoT that it has already paid more than 10% of the total dues as demanded by DoT and will ensure ongoing compliance with the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s orders," Airtel said.

The Supreme Court had granted telcos 10 years to pay their AGR dues, ordering them to make an upfront payment of 10% of the total dues by 31 March, 2021.

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