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How Airtel Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

Other than the element of dark comedy in Stanley Kubrick’s wild satire of the cold war paranoia and Indian telcos’ brutal war for survival, there’s nothing in common between Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and today’s story.

As a movie, Dr Strangelove was a farce; as a story of the world’s second largest telecom user base, Bharti Airtel’s fightback is real. Even visceral. It has wilfully gotten rid of 15% of its subscriber base. The telco believes India has only about 750-800 million unique mobile customers, of which 400-500 million contribute nearly 85% of the industry earnings.

What a new entrant like Reliance Jio did to a mature telecom market in India has no parallel in telecoms business. Anywhere. How Bharti Airtel ceded its strategic lead is also perhaps unparalleled. It was asleep at the wheel. In 2019, Jio will likely end up as the #1 player on both the subscriber and revenue market share metrics.

But Bharti Airtel has stopped worrying. About not being #1; about Jio’s advanced network & deep pockets; about falling ARPUs; about, well, how it fights Jio.

Airtel reckons Jio’s swelling user base will create a reverse dynamic for Jio. The Delhi telco is hoping to get its Mumbai-based rival to commit some of the same mistakes that Reliance Infocomm once did, starting with its subscriber base. (Infocomm filed for bankruptcy in February.)

Rohin and Vandana have spent weeks reporting on this story. “If the first stone against multi-SIM was cast by Jio with its offer of unlimited calling, thus leaving no incentive to hold a second SIM for voice calling, the final blow has come from Airtel. In one fell swoop it has put into motion a forcing function that gets both subscribers and operators to pick each other for a primary relationship,” they write.―The Ken

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