India’s third largest mobile operator Idea Cellular reported a ten-times increase in its net loss for fiscal 2018, which it blamed on the introduction of deeply discounted unlimited bundled data plans which “led to a seismic shift in the consumption of mobile services”.

The operator, with a 17 per cent market share by subscribers, suffered a net loss of INR41.4 billion ($620 million) in the year to end-March, compared with an INR4.04 billion loss in fiscal 2017. Total revenue dropped 20.5 per cent year-on-year to INR283 billion.

Its net loss in its fiscal Q4 rose to INR9.3 billion from INR3.26 billion in fiscal Q4 2017. Revenue in the quarter declined 24.5 per cent year-on-year to INR61.4 billion.

In a statement, the company said a government mandated reduction in domestic and international mobile termination rates further aggravated the financial stress for operators.

Blended ARPU fell 26 per cent year-on-year to INR105 at the end of fiscal Q4 2018. Data as a percentage of revenue rose slightly to 18.8 per cent in the quarter from 18.3 per cent in fiscal Q4 2017.

Usage soars
Idea noted data usage per subscriber jumped to 7GB in fiscal Q4 2018 from 1.4GB in the comparable fiscal 2017 quarter: voice usage per user rose to 577 minutes from 412 minutes.

Total mobile subscribers increased by 5 million year-on-year to 194.5 million at end-March.

Capex for the fiscal year hit INR70 billion, in line with its guidance. The operator added 45,000 3G and 4G sites to take the total to 155,000 at end-March.

The company said a merger with Vodafone India is in the final leg of regulatory approvals and is expected to be completed in the first half of this year. The operators are already sharing about 49,000 mobile sites and plan to share fibre and points-of-presence in 220 cities.

Meanwhile, market leader Bharti Airtel saw profit drop 77.8 per cent in its fiscal Q4, as the company continued to feel the effects of increased competition from the entry of Reliance Jio, which reported a second consecutive quarterly profit and earnings of INR7.23 billion for its full financial year ending 31 March.