MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Bharti Airtel Ltd reported a surprise profit driven by a one-time gain as India's second-biggest mobile phone carrier battled to retain subscribers wooed by free calls and cheaper data from Mukesh Ambani's upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.
Singtel has an effective interest of 35.2 per cent in Airtel. It owns just under half of Airtel's holding company Bharti Telecom.
Airtel's net income was 1.1 billion rupees (S$21.6 million) for the quarter through March boosted by a one-time net gain of 20.2 billion rupees on account of a credit related to "re-assessment of levies", it said in an exchange filing on Monday (May 6). The profit compares with an analysts' estimate for a 9.66 billion-rupee loss. Revenue rose 6 per cent from a year earlier to 206 billion rupees.
The profit is a temporary relief for an operator whose pace of subscriber additions is lagging behind Jio. Since entering the market in 2016, Ambani's venture has shaken the industry by forcing rivals to merge or exit, leaving just three main carriers battling for a share of the nation's 1.2 billion subscribers, versus a dozen three years ago.
Bharti is already weighed down by more than US$17 billion in debt - the highest among Asian peers - as it prepares to spend billions more to snap up 5G airwaves at a government auction in coming months.