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Bharti Airtel reports loss due to shift to 4G, Africa IPO

Indian telco Bharti Airtel Ltd. reported a net loss for the quarter to June 30 but its average revenue per user inched higher for the second straight quarter.

The company's total comprehensive loss attributable to owners of the parent was 30.61 billion Indian rupees in the quarter, compared to a loss of 6.07 billion year over year.

Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive officer, India and South Asia, said the loss was due to network refarming costs.

"We have refarmed spectrum from 3G networks to 4G across both the 900 as well as 2,100 [MHz] bands and begun the process of shutting down 3G networks in India," Vittal said to analysts during an Aug. 2 earnings call.

One-off expenses, from the accelerated depreciation of 3G network equipment and the Airtel Africa Ltd. IPO, totaled 14.45 billion.

The Bharti Airtel subsidiary started trading on the London Stock Exchange on July 3 and on the Nigerian Stock Exchange on July 9. Analysts said the IPO would help Bharti Airtel reduce debt and remain competitive in India. Vittal said on the call that listing got "a strong response from high-quality investors."

ARPU rose to 129 rupees in the first quarter from 105 rupees in the June 2018 quarter. The increase resulted from a simplified pricing structure and marks two consecutive quarters of growth, Vittal said.

Vittal attributed the increase to the company's digital reward platform, Airtel Thanks. The program offers customers who spend 100 rupees a month perks such as premium content and smartphone offers. It has done so well that the telco is extending the program to broadband customers, Vittal said.

The telco's consolidated total revenue for the quarter rose to 207.38 billion from 197.99 billion year over year.

Bharti Airtel's India mobile services accounted for the largest chunk of revenue, with 108.67 billion rupees in the first quarter, up from 104.80 billion rupees year over year. The Africa division followed, posting revenue of 55.43 billion rupees in the quarter, up from 50.03 billion rupees in the quarter ended June 31, 2018.

As of Aug. 1, US$1 was equivalent to 68.94 Indian rupees.