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India's Bharti Airtel to Enter Telecom's Top Five

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India’s Bharti Airtel will become the fifth-largest telecom provider in the world by purchasing 15 African markets from Zain in deal valued at $10.7 billion, according to Wireless Intelligence. Combining the 15 new markets with the three that Bharti held prior, the purchase will give it just under 170 million subscribers out of a potential customer population of 450 million in all 18 areas. Unless a regulatory issue holds up the deal, the newly acquired markets will include: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

As I review the largest mobile providers in the world, I’m reminded that I need to spend more time looking beyond my backyard in the U.S. It would take the combined subscriber counts of the two largest carriers here — Verizon’s (s vz) 91 million and AT&T’s (s t) 85 million — to rival Bharti’s new size. Perhaps Nokia’s (s nok) focus on emerging markets isn’t such a bad strategy after all. This worldwide approach is rubbing off on others as Dell (s dell) just announced a deal with Telfonica Group in Latin America, the world’s No. 3 three mobile provider, to provide services and smartphones such as its Android-powered (s goog) Aero handset. Now if we could only get the carriers to work out better international roaming agreements so that no one ever gets another $10,000 monthly bill, we’d be in business.

Here’s a look at where Airtel will fit in among the top mobile providers in the world:

Worldwide Mobile Telecom Rankings
Rank Provider Total Connections Markets
1 China Mobile 525,331,266 2
2 Vodafone Group 309,580,257 23
3 Telefonica Group 202,333,430 20
4 America Movil Group 186,544,900 17
5 Airtel Group 169,468,523 18
6 China Unicom 147,587,000 1
7 Deutsche Telekom Group 127,919,986 12
8 Telenor Group 101,367,838 10

Table Source: Wireless Intelligence

16 Responses to “India's Bharti Airtel to Enter Telecom's Top Five”


    Airtel has lost its trust in India, hence hey are expanding. The ‘Phony marketing’ techniques backed up cockroach approach to customer service, with Airtel having outsourced everything but to their waist strategy may not work in Africa!

    In India, their fate would be known July 1,2010 after Mobile Number Portability(MNP) will be in operation.

  2. Ah, WordPress seems to have stripped some characters from that last link – you’ll need to add square brackets around tt_news and backPid for it to work, like so:


  3. Nikhlesh & Chetan: the data is correct because we are looking at majority-owned markets here. There is a difference between Airtel Group and Bharti Group in that Bharti only owns about a third of Airtel itself (28.92% as of Q4).

    If we were to take the parent, Bharti, as a group in this ranking, then they would appear far lower than Airtel on its own because none of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh nor a potential Zain acquisition would register as a majority-owned subsidiary.

    This is why we show Airtel as a group as they hold the direct ownership of the subsidiaries above.

    The difference with the remaining markets – Seychelles, Jersey and Guernsey is that these are held directly by Bharti and not through Airtel and so aren’t included in Airtel Group.

    Bharti itself then actually appears 369th with the majority (and full) ownership of just these three markets.

    So, a technicality, but a necessary one in this kind of analysis as you run the risk of double-counting a great many operators’ connections if you don’t enforce a majority-ownership rule on a non-proportionate basis.

    This is all explained in the footnotes to the table in our PDF.

    Bharti themselves also concur on the 18 Airtel markets in their recent press release:

  4. In the largest ever telecom takeover by an Indian firm, Bharti Airtel on Tuesday signed a deal with Kuwait-based Zain Telecom to buy its African business for $10.7 billion. No wonder they are in top 10.

  5. Airtel is present in 19 markets – India, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and 15 in Africa.

    Subscriber Numbers mean nothing in emerging markets except to hoard spectrum [atleast in India with flawed policies and potentially corrupt minister]. One should note that the ARPU in 15 African markets as well as in India have been declining YoY. The real game begins once operations stabilize, ARPUs look up and Airtel board starts preparing its bid for a Richer Telco :-)

    • Hardik Vania

      Chetan, Though numbers of subscriber numbers might not get converted in big revenue numbers(ARPU) in emerging markets currently, However it opens up big opportunities to grow revenues in future. I think that’s why – Vodafone brough Hutch’s india business and if i am not incorrect – It contributes significantly to Vodafone’s Profits.

      And it’s worth noticing here – Even with 1 cent/min. call rate – Most of the telcos in india are making decent profit. So they can export this business model to conquer other markets too.

      My 2 cents.

      • Hardik
  6. Nikhlesh


    Those numbers might need to be checked again. Airtel Group, with this acqusition, will be in more markets than 18. As of today Airtel is present is India, Sri lanka, Seychelles, Jersey, Guernsey & Bangladesh. Add to that the 15 markets from Zain and it makes it 21 markets.

    • Nikhlesh, thanks for that info. I really wasn’t kidding about looking beyond my backyard. ;) I’ll dig for some additional specifics on the total markets, but I think the real news is the move to number 5 overall.

      • Nikhlesh

        Yes, the real news is move to the Number:5 position. Indian telcos have been trying for a while to gain a foothold outside India because the market here has got too crowded and competitive. We have atleast 10 functional mobile operators in almost all circles in the country & there are 3-4 more waiting to kick off. Tarrifs have dropped to about 1 cent per minute for x-net calls across the country.

        Bharti had tried twice for a merger with MTN group in last 2 years but failed each time- last due to SA govt regulations. So yes, this is a good move for Bharti & finally they have been successful.

      • Indian telecom sector needs another consolidation. The first consolidation between 1996-99 wasn’t good enough. Half of the existing can be merged resulting in 4 – 6 major players.