Sunil Bharti Mittal, the founder of Bharti Enterprises. Photo: AFP

Telecom major Bharti Airtel posted its biggest quarterly loss since it went public in 2002, hurt by the price war and a one-time loss of 14.45 billion rupees (US$207 million).

The Sunil Bharti Mittal-promoted company incurred a net loss of 28.66 billion rupees ($411 million) in the first quarter this year as against a profit of 970 million rupees in the previous year. It is its first quarterly loss since December 2003.

However, the company’s average revenue per user for this quarter was the industry’s best at 129 rupees on a subscriber base of 320 million. It was 105 rupees in the year-ago quarter and 123 rupees in the previous quarter. It has risen for the third straight quarter.

Vodafone Idea’s average revenue per user during the same period was 108 rupees, while that of Reliance Jio was 122 rupees.

Airtel also retained the top spot in the market in terms of revenue this quarter as its top line was up 2.8% at 153.45 billion rupees. Vodafone Idea posted revenue of 112.69 billion rupees and Reliance Jio’s revenue was Rs 116.79 billion rupees, Business Standard reports.

However, in the same period Reliance Jio has posted a profit of 8.91 billion rupees ($127 million) and Vodafone-Idea incurred a loss of over 45 billion rupees.

During the first quarter, Airtel’s mobile revenue saw year-on-year growth of 3.7%. Mobile 4G data customers increased by 63.3% to 95.2 million from 58.3 million in the corresponding quarter last year. This happened despite a rise in the price for its lowest tariff plans and deactivation of low-revenue-generating customers.

The telecom company incurred a one-time cost of over 14 billion rupees to redeploy spectrum and upgrade from 3G networks to 4G. In the preceding quarter, Airtel had posted a surprise profit of 1.07 billion rupees because of a one-time gain of 20.22 billion rupees.

The launch of low-cost tariff plans by Reliance Jio forced rivals to drop their rates, hurting profit margins. Smaller companies were forced to either shut shop or get acquired.

Right now the Indian market has three main private players – Airtel, Jio and the merged entity of Vodafone and Idea. The state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is also incurring heavy losses and the government is looking to divest the company.

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