Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal has expressed hope that the government and regulators will step in to ensure that the sector remains a viable place for continued investments, and asserted that industry requires “long overdue” support to maintain its current 3+1 structure.
Mittal said that as the sector’s role in the economy becomes more pervasive, its challenges loom larger.
Issues such as unsustainable pricing and low returns in a highly capital-intensive environment, coupled with legacy legal issues, “have extracted their toll”, Mittal said in Airtel’s annual report for 2020-21.
“The industry requires long overdue support to maintain its current 3+1 industry structure and allow players to earn a respectable return on their investments,” Mittal said.
The telecom czar was alluding to the current telecom industry construct that has three private players and one state-owned operator.
Mittal hoped that the government and the regulators will step in to ensure there is adequate balance in the industry and it remains a viable place for continued investments.
India continues to be a “promising destination” for long-term investors, he pointed out.
“We have the opportunity to transform India into a global leader in the digital economy. We must continue to evolve our policies to realise these opportunities while encouraging investments, entrepreneurship, and innovation through collaboration,” Mittal said pledging that “Airtel is ready to play its part”.
The telecom sector has been a chief catalyst in the transformation of India and its economy over the last 25 years and played a seminal role during the pandemic by keeping a nation of over one billion connected, Mittal said terming it an “outstanding feat”.
Mittal said that even amid the pandemic and industry challenges, Airtel had demonstrated “remarkable resilience” and, in fact, came out “much stronger” during the last financial year.
“Our focus on executing our strategy while showing financial prudence has ensured that we deliver in the midst of perennial challenges,” Mittal informed.
The company continues to have a healthy balance sheet with “enough and more” headroom to continue investing strategically for growth, he emphasised.
“With digital platforms operating at scale across the organisation, we believe that we have all the building blocks for the next phase of our growth,” the top boss of Airtel said.
Given its large investments over the past few years, Airtel has built a formidable integrated product portfolio which will give the company an opportunity to tap emerging opportunities and deliver services at scale.
“As the Indian economy digitises further, there are large opportunities ahead in areas such as data centres, submarine cable deployment, cloud services, and cybersecurity. We will look to scale up our investments in these areas in the coming fiscal,” Mittal said.
A strong foundation is in place for making Airtel a ‘truly digital-first company’ to serve Digital India, he said adding that the company has the ability to develop world-class platforms and digital solutions on the back of in-house engineering talent and strong partnerships with players including Amazon, Google, Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Cisco and Apollo Hospitals.
“This is a big transformation as we embed digital into our DNA and sharpen our focus on serving customers who live in a world of connected devices,” he said.