Bharti Airtel World’s Forth ‘Largest’ Mobile Operator – A Myth, Perception Or Reality ?

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In last 12 hours, I bumped numerous times with the ‘news’ floating around almost every news portal, blog and social networks – Bharti Airtel has become world’s 4th largest Telecom operator in terms of number of subscribers. Be it ‘self-claimed’ largest Indian blog or web property, each one was busy in rat-race of broadcasting almost identical information – if not content – originally sourced from Wirelessintelligence. But what’s real message behind the scene ? Is Airtel ‘convinciblly’ 4th largest mobile operator in the world? You may change your perception by the time you hit the last line of this post

Bharti Airtel: World’s 4th Largest Telecom Operator – Original ‘Story’

Indeed, Bharti Airtel is India’s the largest mobile operator that controlled 30.3% revenue market share of Indian Telecom market during Q2 2012, followed by Vodafone and Idea cellular.

With 13% year-one-year rise in number of connections resulting in 250 million+ subscribers, Bharti Airtel moved up one position only to become world’s 4th largest Telecom company beating contenders from world’s largest mobile markets like China and Spain.


Just two years before Bharti Airtel made another big leap to become the fifth largest telecom company after the much ‘criticized’ acquisition of “Zain Group” which was covering 15 African nations.

world's Top Telecom companies

Look Beyond Title – An Upside Down Swing

Interestingly, Bharti Airtel recorded 9 straight quarterly fall in profits till Q1 2012. And, that is something which convinced us to see the ‘much-hyped’ list of top telecom companies in mirror-view, which resulted in astounding facts.

In spite of 250 billion users, Bharti Airtel revenue for Q2 2012 stood just $3.04 billion which pulls down Airtel at 14th position. Compare to other top 3 companies (as per number of subscribers) this is the biggest downfall for any company in the list – besides Reliance Communication (another Indian telecom company). In the view of Q2 revenue based reshuffled structure Bharti Airtel lost 10 spots while Reliance slipped to 19th position from 8th position, losing 11 spots. There is no other company which also faced similar destiny. In fact, Top Telecom company “China Mobile” emerged as the true leader that remained intact on supreme position with maximum recorded revenue ($22.05 billion).

But, the biggest shift is yet to come; we understand that due to ‘multi-sim’ and ‘multi-mobile’ culture it’s quite difficult to analyze the real growth of any company based upon number of subscribers. In fact, in many countries people have started realizing the need for 3rd connection due to nature of their job or daily life. Therefore, ranking top companies based upon number of subscribers doesn’t authenticate the list much.

However, analysts feel that any company’s revenue against number of client calculation could justify the purpose till a significant extent. So, we have tried to rank those top telecom companies on the basis of ‘per subscriber revenue contribution’. Results are really astounding:


World's top telecom companies (revenue)

Airtel ranking has taken a deep dive on the list, reached to 17th position – straight loss of 13 spots. Many could justify Bharti Airtel position by pointing blaming intense competition and low call rates in India and Africa tough, it’s difficult to accept in the light of fact that neighboring and world’s largest telecom company still settles down with respected position with almost 250% higher ‘per subscriber revenue contribution’ than Bharti Airtel.

India – World’s Second Biggest Telecom Market

India is world’s second biggest mobile market after China in terms of number of Telecom subscribers. With 944 million Telecom subscribers, India is one of the most preferred destinations for many mobile companies, acting as bolt-on service/solution provider in Telecom ecosystem. However, the constant lowering service charges and significantly disappointing ‘per user revenue contribution’ could upset the market in long run.


  1. And telling the African group  HSPA  ( 14Mbps per  3GPP) is 21Mbps (HSPA+)…because they want to play propaganda and smart!

  2. The post doesn’t compare only the USA, See other countries, specially in ASIA… even those are better than Airtel. The whole purpose of this post was to make people understand the hyped propaganda by Airtel of becoming 4th largest with no much revenue…

    From an investor point, will you buy a company which will keep rowing only with users but have 9 continuous quarters in loss with lowest ARPU…

    I have also mentioned few networks which are still hanging on with 3G but still much above than Airtel…

    We have tried to posted ‘consolidated picture’ not just number of users or ARPU !

  3. Seriously? Is this even a serious article?.. and NO, my perception doesn’t change by the time I’ve hit the last line of this post.

    I do agree with the message you’re trying to deliver but you hypothesis is baseless, how can you even compare ARPU of a developed country like U.S. with that of India? First of all the is a dollar value difference, half a dozen apples may cost $6-$7 in U.S., while in India they would only be $1-$2 (ok, not an ‘apple to apple’ comparison, but you get the point). Secondly, you’re comparing ARPU of Verizon or AT&T with Airtel? Really? Verizon has now moved on to 4G LTE network, AT&T users are data guzzlers, their ARPU is bound to be much much higher than Airtel’s, whose 90% customers (throwing loose numbers but still close) don’t even use data and the most of them who do are still on GPRS!


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