The global economy went through another challenging year. Even as the US experiencedsustained recovery growth in the Euro area remained muted and China continued to slowdown dragging down global economy conspicuously.
Although India our core market by contrast had a reasonably good year; forAfricas largely commodity driven economies it turned out to be extremely tumultuousas weak growth was accompanied by a sharp depreciation of currencies. Overall weencountered a mixed economic environment in our key markets.
Telecommunication witnessed phenomenal progress on the innovation and adoption front.As a sector it witnessed two remarkable trends in the emerging markets - one overallpenetration of smartphones expanded rapidly resulting in a sharp uptake in newapplications and data consumption; two regulatory issues with regard to net neutralityand OTT applications continued to be debated rather vociferously. Notwithstanding theoverhang of uncertainty over these issues operators globally have steadily come to termswith complex regulatory issues.
Early on during the year Airtel moved past a key milestone when it became theworlds third largest mobile operator (by subscribers). The year also witnessed asteady strengthening of our operating benchmarks in different geographies. The improvementwas most conspicuous in India where we scaled up our margins and revenue market sharesignificantly. Although improvement in African markets remained rather subdued followingsharp currency devaluations caused largely by macro-economic headwinds facing thesemarkets positive change in key metrics definitely augur well for the future. I firmlybelieve six years of hard work has finally started showing some results on ground.
Riding on rapid increase in smartphone penetration data revenues continued to be a keydriving force of our incremental revenues both in India and Africa. While data customersaccounted for 23.2% of our total customer base in India the corresponding ratio forAfrica stood at 19.6% at the end of the year. Similarly the share of data revenues intotal revenues stood at 23.3% and 15.6% in India and Africa respectively. We expect theseratios to expand in an accelerated manner in the coming years.
4G as a technology is maturing at a much faster rate than earlier expectedparticularly so in India. Throughout the year we not only expanded our 4G footprint tonearly 400 cities and towns making ours the widest 4G network in India but also acquirednew spectrum from the market under the new spectrum trading guidelines to consolidate our4G presence with a pan-India footprint. We also embarked upon a bold networktransformation initiative - Project Leap involving a cumulative investment of' 600000 Mn (USD 9 Bn) over three years. During the year we completed one of the largestsite deployment initiatives in the world rolling out over 87000 new sites.
Airtel became the first company in India to receive a payments bank license. I stronglybelieve with our deep distribution network touching remote corners of the country AirtelPayments Bank is uniquely placed to deliver a differentiated banking experience to ourcustomers. Other businesses in India i.e. Direct to Home (DTH) and Telemedia toostrengthened their operational parameters during the year significantly.
Asset restructuring and rationalisation remained a key guiding factor for us in Africa.We entered into definitive agreements which will lead to Oranges acquisition ofAirtels operations in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone.
We also achieved closure of the Tower Cos divestment agreements in eight countriesduring the year. Tower Cos divestment will not only help us deleverage through debtreduction but enable Airtel to significantly reduce its on-going capital expenditure onpassive infrastructure besides helping us to focus on our core business.
Airtel Africas management structure has been redesigned to achieve a higher levelof empowerment and accountability at the operating levels. Under the new cluster basedorganisational structure Christian de Faria has assumed the position of ExecutiveChairman and Raghunath Mandava who moved to Africa from our India and South Asiaoperation has assumed charge as the Chief Operating Officer
Our philanthropic arm Bharti Foundation expanded the ambit of its initiativesconsiderably during the year Our education related initiatives are today reaching out toover 73000 underprivileged rural children. Similarly the rural sanitation initiativeSatya Bharti Abhiyan launched in the last financial year has already constructed anddelivered over 12700 household toilets benefiting over 63000 users in 559 villages inPunjabs Ludhiana district. The Programme is already being hailed as one of the mostsuccessful private sector initiatives in the country in rural sanitation. AirtelAfricas Adopt a School initiative is today reaching out to over 27000students with over 700 teachers.
Technology innovations - from virtual reality and artificial intelligence to roboticsare taking significant strides to open up numerous possibilities in our lives. At theheart of these exciting possibilities lie the global telecommunications networks that areupgrading themselves with equal alacrity to match the pace and scope of these innovations.As new innovations riding our networks evolve to the next stage network operators will nolonger remain the proverbial dumb pipes but smart facilitators.Its an exciting future waiting out there.
Sunil Bharti Mittal