Airtel rolls out Covid support initiatives for customers on its digital platform

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Bharti Airtel has rolled out a range of Covid support initiatives for customers by leveraging its digital platform. With this, the telco joins a growing list of companies that have introduced digital tools to help people amid the deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Airtel has integrated easily accessible bouquet of Covid support resources and related information in the Airtel Thanks app’s Explore section, the company said in a statement.

“Covid SOS aggregates verified and updated contacts for important supplies such as medicines, oxygen, plasma donors, ambulance, hospital beds, and testing centres. With a few clicks, the platform connects users to these service providers/resources and tries to ensure that users do not have to waste precious time to access this data,” the statement said.

The information available on ‘Covid SOS’ is verified by their teams, it said and added the platform is powered by Airtel IQ.

“Airtel Thanks users can also book a vaccination slot for themselves and their loved ones through the app,” the statement said.

With the Cowin platform APIs (Application Programming Interface) integrated with the Airtel Thanks app, information on nearest vaccination centres and available slots are updated on a real-time basis.

To avail relevant resources, users would need to download the latest version of the Airtel Thanks app (iOS, Android), go to the ‘Explore’ section and click on the Covid support banners. Another feature allows businesses to create a free helpline for employees with Airtel IQ.

“Business of all sizes can set up free Covid Helpline for their employees within two minutes with Airtel IQ a cloud communication platform. Airtel is giving 5,000 minutes with each Helpline account so that businesses can stay connected with their employees and organise their efforts,” it said.

The feature is expected to be particularly useful for medium to small-sized companies that can set up a secure helpline instantly without any in-house telco infrastructure.

India in a day recorded 3,26,098 COVID-19 cases that took the tally to 2,43,72,907, while 3,890 new fatalities pushed the death toll to 2,66,207, according to Union health ministry data updated on Saturday.

A massive rise in infections during the second deadly wave of the pandemic has led to hospitals in several states reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen, beds, and other critical infrastructure.

The vaccination drive in India was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers getting inoculated and the vaccination of frontline workers started on February 2. Subsequently, it was opened for different age groups.

The total number of Covid vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed the 18 crore mark.

While people have rushed to register for the jab, certain states have flagged limited availability of vaccines.

Right from giants like Facebook and Google to startups such as HealthifyMe have introduced a slew of tools over the past few weeks to help people find slots for vaccination appointments.

Drawing on the country’s proven tech prowess and massive reach of social media platforms, many companies and developers are also enabling people looking for resources like hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders.

Vodafone Idea adds subscribers for the 1st time since Oct 2019, Airtel under pressure post Africa numbers

Telecom stocks are in focus as Vodafone Idea has added subscribers for the first time since October 2019, while Airtel is under pressure post its Africa numbers.

After a gap of 15 months, in February Vodafone Idea added subscribers, according to the TRAI data. In the month of February, the company has added 6.5 lakh subscribers and the street is quite happy because it breaks this long 15 month period of sluggishness when the company was consistently losing its subscribers.

On Bharti Airtel side, the TRAI numbers for the month of February are lower than what Reliance Jio added. Africa’s numbers are in line with estimates. It is impacted by the slowdown in customer addition due to the new sim registration regulations in Nigeria.

CNBC-TV18’s Reema Tendulkar has key highlights on telecom stocks.

Watch this video for more.

Telcos spend Rs 9,000 crore on infrastructure during pandemic: Report

Major telecommunication carriers like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio have together spent as much as Rs 9,000 crore in improving network infrastructure over the past year.

S.P. Kocchar, director-general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said, “Nearly Rs 9,000 crore has been spent by telecom service providers in putting telecom sites and laying optic fibre cable since last one year,” reported the Economic Times.

Kocchar also added that the industry was prepared to meet the increasing and evolving needs of the Indian consumer base while ensuring the highest possible uptimes, the report mentioned.

Also read: NCLAT says lenders cannot treat telcos’ spectrum as ‘security interest’ under insolvency proceedings

The group represents core members Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio and associate members ACT Fibernet, Amazon.in, Nokia, Juniper, Ericsson, Google, Facebook, Apple and other multinational and domestic enterprises.

Telecom operators had bought additional spectrum blocks in the recently ended auction. This would further enhance the already existing network capacity on top of adding more to it, according to Kocchar.

The Department of Telecommunications had assigned 855.60 MHz of airwaves sold to the telecom operators in March auction across the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz bands earlier this month. The DoT also said the allocation of the airwaves was made contiguous wherever possible, a move that’ll improve network efficiency and service quality.

Also read: Trai says no major issues noticed in bulk messages, OTP generation as new norms enforced

Following the pandemic, the adoption of the work from home model and the lockdown, the country has witnessed a massive surge in internet usage for various purposes.

According to Ivo Ivanov, chief executive officer, DE-CIX, an internet exchange operator, internet usage rose up by 192 percent across the country after the start of the pandemic, in an interview with The Financial Express.

He said, “There was significant growth in traffic. For instance, between February to December 2020, OTT & Video on Demand grew a whopping 1,317 percent, while gaming grew at 1,007 percent. Similarly, ISP traffic grew at 397 percent, whereas traffic from content delivery networks rose 328 percent. Data traffic at social & online media grew by 210 percent during the same period”, the Financial Express report mentioned.

This has led telecom operators and infrastructure providers to ramp up the scale of the infrastructure in order to ensure constant connectivity.

Also read: Telecom associations warn people against telecom tower installation fraud

According to data provided by Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), nearly 70,000 new mobile towers were added since February last year.

Optical fibre, used for high-speed fibre net connections, also saw an increase in its footprint. 2,47,550 km of optical fibre were laid down from September 2019 to March 2021.

TAIPA has recently asked for DoT permission for its ground staff to have unrestricted access to telecom tower sites as many states in India are in the grip of lockdowns or lockdown-like restrictions.

Bharti Airtel has emerged healthy despite several near-death experiences, says Sunil Mittal

From a near collapse to Jio’s entry in the telecom space, Bharti Airtel – the second-largest mobile operator in India — has had several near-death experiences over the past few years. However, it has emerged into a ‘very healthy shape’ today, said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman of Bharti Enterprises said, recounting the telecom major’s challenges over the years.

Speaking at Amazon’s Smbhav Summit on April 15, Mittal said that Airtel’s first near-death experience came in 2003 when the operator was on the verge of a collapse after having expanded at break-neck speed.

“Everything was happening at the same time. We were hiring more people without too much of induction or training and putting them out in the field. And all this was creating a massive crisis,” Mittal recounted.

However, Airtel needed capital, vendor support and more customers, all of which came together at the time. “We demonstrated that Airtel is a company that will thrive, even in a crisis that playbook has helped us several times since 2003-04,” he added.

Airtel’s next crisis came when 12 telecom licenses were given out in 2008-10, which he said caused disruption in the marketplace. The most recent crisis, however, was the entry of Reliance Jio in 2016, as the ‘most powerful competitor in Indian space’, offering free services for a year and then subsidised service for another year, followed by “predatory pricing”, Mittal said.

“No surprise, nine of those 12 operators backed out, went bankrupt, merged with us or and each other. And today we are down to three private sector operators in which very clearly one operator is becoming increasingly a question mark,” Mittal highlighted, hinting at Vi.

However, Airtel passed this test yet again very well, increasing its market share, brand loyalty, brand index and has been adding more customers than competition over the last nine months, he added.

Bharti Airtel has 340 million plus subscribers in India and has added new lines of business such as fibre-to-home, DTH, data centres, enterprise businesses and Airtel Payments Bank.

“All in all, I would say, we have now arrived today, after three or four big crises into a very healthy shape,” the founder of Airtel said.

Importance of financial discipline

At the event, Mittal also had some advice for budding entrepreneurs. He said that while it is important to be ambitious, one shouldn’t have ambitions higher than their resources and must ensure that financial discipline is maintained at all times. He said that it is important that one makes all payments on time and build credibility for a company, which goes a long way.

Recounting his learning about financial discipline when he was a supplier to Hero Cycles in 1977 and Brijmohan Munjal was one of his customers, Mittal said, “He [Munjal] used to pay once a week and was extremely disciplined about paying on Friday. I needed some money, I went to him to seek money ahead of time. He was not happy, I could see the frown on his face. He finally wrote me a cheque and as I was leaving his cabin, he said don’t make this a habit. I have never forgotten those words. That was the last time I ever let my monetary position take the better of me. Have control over your finances,” Mittal shared.

Lastly, Mittal said that today is like no other time where access to capital is easy, technology is on one’s fingertips, the country is large and there is the big market out there for all.

“You put all this together and you have an opportunity like we never had. This will help build businesses which are going to be strong, resilient and some of you will break through and make bigger businesses — even in the near term — and established companies,” Mittal added.

Disclaimer: Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com, is controlled by Independent Media Trust, of which Reliance Industries is the sole beneficiary.

DoT may slap Videocon’s AGR dues of Rs 1,376 crore on Bharti Airtel

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In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on the status of statutory dues paid by telecom operators, the Department of Telecom (DoT) said it is planning to slap Videocon Telecommunications Ltd’s adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues of Rs 1,376 crore on Bharti Airtel.

However, Bharti Airtel has questioned the demand, and said that the DoT letter has no basis in law and the company can’t be held liable for past dues of Videocon Telecommunications.

According to the affidavit, Videocon Telecommunications had sold endure spectrum of 30 MHz to Bharti Airtel in 2016.

As per Supreme Court directions, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, had to pay 10 percent of their AGR dues demanded by the DoT by March 31, 2021.

The apex court had asked telcos to make 10 percent of the upfront payment of their dues by March 31 to the DoT while the remaining amount is to be paid over a ten-year period starting April 1, 2021.

However, there is some ambiguity over the court order as telcos maintain that they have already paid more than the 10 percent of their AGR dues while DoT opined that the operators will have to pay 10 percent of the total dues by March 31, 2021, irrespective of what they have already paid.

The ambiguity has befuddled the industry calculation with many of the telcos reaching out to their legal counsels to make sense of the court’s order in this regard.

As per the government calculations, total AGR liability of Bharti Airtel is Rs 43,980 crore, Vodafone Idea is Rs 58,254 crore, Tata group is Rs 16,798 crore, BSNL is Rs 5,835.85 crore and MTNL is Rs 4,352.09 crore.

Bharti Airtel has paid the government Rs 18,004 crore, VIL (Rs 7,854 crore), Tatas (Rs 4,197 crore) and Reliance Jio has cleared its entire dues with payment of Rs 194.79 crore.

Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications owes Rs 25,194.58 crore, Aircel (Rs 12,389 crore) and Videocon Telecommunications (Rs 1,376 crore) but these companies are under liquidation process. Companies like Loop Telecom, Etisalat DB and S Tel, which jointly owe the government Rs 604 crore, have shut down their India operations.

Thursday’s top brokerage calls: RBI policy, steel stocks and more

Stocks to buy
Morgan Stanley on RBI Policy: Managing liquidity and commitment to buy G-Sec indicates a more dovish stance, said the brokerage. It feels that as growth conditions normalise, RBI should take steps to normalise the policy.
Nomura on RBI Policy: The brokerage feels RBI’s policy decision is less dovish than what meets the eye. It added that managing the yield curve may be challenging if long-term inflation expectations rise.
Credit Suisse on Steel: Indian steel pricing rose $50/t this week in the trader’s market, said the brokerage, adding that the prices are likely to be elevated on-demand recovery, shortage and cost-push. It likes Tata Steel and JSPL in the space.
Citi on Steel: The brokerage raises FY22 EBITDA estimate by 12-20 percent for JSW Steel, JSPL & SAIL.
Macquarie on IT Sector: The brokerage sees strong demand tailwinds for Indian IT aided by cloud and digital transformation. Top large-cap picks in the IT space for Macquarie are Infosys and HCL Tech.
CLSA on IT Sector: As per the brokerage, the strength of deal activity is in line with recent commentaries by Indian IT companies.
CLSA on Bharti Airtel: The brokerage maintains a ‘buy’ call on the stock with a target at Rs 730 per share.

Positive on Adani Ports, Bharti Airtel, RJio, says Deven Choksey

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Deven Choksey, MD of KRChoksey Securities, said some of the infrastructure funds, which are looking at India entry, would definitely find Adani Ports more meaningful.

“Because this is one company which has got the largest capacity to handle cargo. That is where they get entry into this stock from an investment perspective,” he said.

On Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, he said, “Trading of the spectrum was definitely there. Reliance Jio had always acquired spectrum. Even in earlier days, they acquired from Reliance Communications and from others as well. So currently, it is a win-win kind of a situation for both Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio.”

He would be cautious of Macrotech Developers IPO, he said. “Because the current real estate market is showing signs of growth – they have an advantage in form of having the land bank. However, gone are those days where you used to monetise your land bank significantly. So what is left out is a pure construction play as far as the company is concerned. The supply-side situation is going to be abundant even though the demand is going to improve gradually. In that kind of a situation we are not likely to see a major jump as far as the business is concerned,” he explained.

From a perspective of playing safe and not getting into the litigation, he would stay with his core focus of putting money into the housing finance business, Choksey shared. “I feel more comfortable there as far as real estate plays are concerned,” he added.

He believes Axis Bank is likely to see a larger amount of growth in the life insurance business. “Having got the insurance business into their fold and using the distribution reach and the customer reach that they have in Axis, they are likely to see the larger amount of growth in the life insurance business. This is going to be fundamentally very positive,” he pointed out.

For more, watch the video.

Disclosure: RIL, the promoter of Reliance Jio, also controls Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com.

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Jio enters agreement with Airtel to use 800 MHz spectrum in 3 circles

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Telecom major Reliance Jio on Tuesday signed an agreement with rival Bharti Airtel for the right to use spectrum in the 800 MHz band in Delhi, Mumbai and Andhra Pradesh circles.

The agreement will enhance Jio’s network capacity in these circles. Through the agreement — which is subject to statutory approvals — Jio will buy spectrum for Rs 1,497 crore and assume liabilities of Rs 459 crore.

“The aggregate value for the right to use this spectrum is Rs 1,497 crores, inclusive of the present value of associated deferred payment liability of Rs 459 crores, subject to any transaction related adjustments,” Reliance Jio said on Tuesday.

“The trading agreement is in accordance with the Spectrum Trading Guidelines issued by the Department of Telecommunications and is subject to the requisite regulatory and statutory approvals,” it added.

In the spectrum auction held early in March, Jio had acquired the maximum spectrum, i.e. 488.35 MHz across three circles, for Rs 57,122.65 crore in the latest round of auction. In the same auction, Bharti Airtel had acquired 355.45 MHz spectrum across Sub-GHz, mid-band and 2300 MHz bands, for Rs 18,699 crore and Vodafone Idea spent Rs 1993.40 crore for 11.8 MHz spectrum across five circles.

Green energy push: Airtel commissions captive solar power plant for data centres in UP

In line with its aim to expand green energy footprint, telecom operator Bharti Airtel has commissioned a captive solar power plant to meet the energy needs of its core and edge data centres in Uttar Pradesh, according to a company statement. The facility in Tilhar (Shahjahanpur, UP) is the first of the two solar plants being set up by Airtel in partnership with AMP Energy.

The second plant at Begampur, is expected to go live in the next quarter. This will provide a major boost to Airtel’s initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. ”… Bharti Airtel… has commissioned a 14 MWp captive solar power plant to meet the energy requirements of its core and edge data centres in Uttar Pradesh,” the statement said.

Airtel had acquired a 26 percent equity stake in AMP Solar Evolution as part of its commitment to green energy-based solutions. Data Centres, which play a key role in the digital ecosystem, have large power requirements.

’Nxtra by Airtel’ currently operates 10 large and 120 edge data centres across India. In FY 2022, it aims to meet over 50 per cent of its power input through renewable energy sources and contribute to Airtel’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. ”As a responsible corporate, green energy is a top agenda for Airtel. We take pride in being ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing sustainability initiatives,” said Rajesh Tapadia, CEO Nxtra Data.

Airtel will continue to drive its commitment to reducing carbon footprint through multiple interventions, Tapadia added. ”Airtel is aligned to the Paris Climate Accord. It benchmarks against global standards and transparently publishes the progress it makes against the targets it has set itself,” the statement said adding the company is proactively deploying clean fuel-based power solutions for its towers, data centres, switching centers and other facilities.

Mastercard to invest $100 mn in Airtel Africa’s Mobile Commerce business

Analyst: Rajesh Palviya of Axis Securities | Bharti Airtel | Rating: Buy | LTP: Rs 385 | Target: Rs 412-422 | Upside: 9 percent

Bharti Airtel is moving on its deleveraging at a very fast pace. In the past 15 days, there have been three announcements of some sort of a stake sale, which is bringing in money.

The latest one is Mastercard, which will invest $100 million in the Airtel Africa’s Mobile Commerce (AMC) business. UBS has come up with a report on the company maintaining a ‘buy’ rating.

Watch accompanying video of CNBC-TV18’s Reema Tendulkar for more details.