Just 2 players in telecom mkt will be tragic: Bharti Airtel’s Sunil Mittal

Terming India’s near duopoly telecom space “tragic”, Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal said a large country like India needed at least three mobile players.

“In India, from 12 operators we are down to nearly two and a half … will it go down to two? In my view it would be tragic. India is a very large country and it deserves to have three private sector telecom players and I hope we end up with that situation,” he said at the Qatar Economic Forum.

Vodafone Idea came under a lot of stress after the Supreme Court in September last year directed the company to pay its adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

In a relief to the cash-strapped telecom operators, the court allowed the companies to clear their AGR dues in 10 years and start making an upfront payment of 10 per cent of the dues.

According to DoT estimates, Vodafone Idea owes Rs 58,400 crore as AGR dues. Of those, it has paid Rs 7,854 crore. It needs to pay the balance in 10 annual instalments ending March 31, 2031.

Bharti Airtel owes Rs 43,980 crore as AGR dues against the telco’s calculation of Rs 13,004 crore. The company has paid Rs 18,000 crore. The DoT had raised the AGR dues to telecom companies after the court crystallised the definition of AGR; similarly, it can be done on dues from bankrupt firms.

The court in October 2019 had delivered the verdict on the AGR issue for calculating the government dues of telecom companies, such as lice­nce fees and spectrum-usage charges. However, Mittal is optimistic about his company.

“As far as Airtel is concerned, it is gaining ground, has gained market share, and is in a solid position. In Africa we have now strengthened our company and it is doing extremely well. We remain steadfast in our ambition.” When asked wh­ether the pandemic had made him rethink business, Mittal said, “Very clearly the digital acceleration has forced the ha­nds of almost every major corporate entity in the world. More and more digital tools and me­diums are being used to do things … within the systems and, importantly, how best to serve customers in a more efficient and faster way. In my own opinion, the companies which are not going to adapt to the digital way of life will fall behind.”

Talking about the company’s One Web initiative, Mit­tal said: “We are firing on all cyl­i­nders, connecting more and more homes on fibre so that shifts from office to home are well served and we are doing well on that.

“One Web wo­uld serve every inch of the world’s land, oceans, mountains, jungles and deserts anywhere … we will have a radio signal to serve the people who are not connected due to the internet.

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