"Telecommunications continued to be an exciting arena. Rapid rollout of 4G datanetworks sharply increasing smartphone penetration and fast proliferating mobileapplications enabled internet to enter customers' everyday lives in newer ways. "
The global economy regained some of the lost momentum during the year. While majoreconomies benefitted from improving global demand commodity exporting countries recoveredon the back of a spike in commodity prices. Our Company experienced mixed outcomes in ourkey markets in Asia and Africa.
India despite going through bold but disruptive demonetisation drive experienced areasonably good year with economy maintaining its growth momentum outshining several ofits emerging market peers. However Africa continued to experience sluggishness in itsgrowth rates and adverse currency movements further aggravated the business performanceacross industry sectors.
Telecommunications continued to be an exciting arena. Rapid rollout of 4G datanetworks sharply increasing smartphone penetration and fast proliferating mobileapplications enabled internet to enter customers' everyday lives in newer ways. Theamazing pace of change was particularly visible in emerging markets like India that arecurrently in the middle of a giant leap towards 4G. This massive transformational changehas catapulted customers' mobile experience to a new high. The mobile phone has become themost powerful empowering and transformational device. To be able to stay ahead of thecurve during this fourth industrial revolution your Company continues to digitise itselfeach day - its offerings systems processes customer centricity.
India witnessed unprecedented market disruption following the entry of an extremelywell-capitalised and aggressive new operator.
Its prolonged free trial offers created massive pressure on industry revenues andmargins.
Airtel on its part navigated this extraordinary challenge with a well thought outstrategic action plan and of course sheer resilience. Amidst this massive industryshake-up we managed to increase our revenue market share; to reach a lifetime high. Manysmall operators lost their bearings under the intense onslaught and consequently preparedto exit the market. The shake-up also triggered an industry wide consolidation processwhich we believe could prove beneficial for the market in the long run.
The year witnessed considerable strengthening of our spectrum footprint both throughbuying at the latest round of auction and inorganic acquisitions. Besides completing theacquisition of spectrum from Videocon and Aircel in fourteen circles we also entered intodefinitive agreements to acquire Telenor India and Tikona Digital Networks. With theseacquisitions Airtel became the only operator in the country to have a robust pan India2G/3G/4G spectrum footprint.
Our aggressive network transformation programme continued under Project Leap'during the year. With 180000 mobile sites rolled out in the past 2 years this is one ofthe largest network rollouts globally. Proactive rollouts during the year made Airtel theonly operator in the country with 2G 3G and 4G services in all 22 circles. With thelaunch of Airtel Payments Bank we became the first among the licensees to go live in thecountry. Early days of the bank are encouraging and with our deep distribution network Iexpect the Bank to be a pre-eminent driver of financial inclusion and mobile banking inthe country in the coming years.
Strategic consolidation of telecom assets remained an unmistakable underlying trend inemerging markets. While the transactions to divest tower assets in DRC and Niger and saleof Airtel's operations in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone finally reached closure in Africawe also completed the merger of Airtel Bangladesh with Robi-Axiata during the year.Additionally we entered into an agreement to combine our operations in Ghana with Tigo tocreate the second largest operator in the market.
Operational turnaround in Africa gained further momentum during the year as AirtelAfrica turned Profit before Tax (PBT) positive for the first time. Our strategicinitiatives focused on distribution optimisation network excellence and cost managementresulted in resilient financial performance. As expected Data continued to be a keydriver of incremental growth in Africa.
Our reputation in terms of adherence to the highest standard of corporate governanceand transparency received wide acclaim during the year when Transparency Internationalranked Bharti Airtel first in its list of 100 emerging market multinationals on corporatetransparency and reporting.
Our philanthropic arm Bharti Foundation's Satya Bharti School Program completed10-years of operation during which it has successfully expanded the ambit of its operationthrough multiple initiatives focused on education for rural underprivileged children. TheProgram is currently reaching out to nearly two lakh rural children across 12 statesthrough these initiatives. Besides its core education programs the Foundation alsostrengthened its other philanthropic initiatives during the year; Satya Bharti Abhiyan(rural sanitation) Nyaya Bharti (legal and financial aid for underprivileged undertrials). We also witnessed significant expansion in Airtel Africa's philanthropicinitiatives in the areas of school education health youth training and empowerment. Ourflagship program in Africa "Adopt-a-School" currently reaches out to over27000 children in 56 schools.
I am pleased to inform you that 2016-17 turned out to be a memorable year for mepersonally as I entered into two major global roles - Chairman of International Chamberof Commerce (ICC) and Chairman of GSMA. While ICC headquartered in Paris is one of theworld's oldest and most respected business organisations promoting the cause of globalbusiness and trade at various global forums GSMA headquartered in London is a strategicglobal organisation representing nearly 800 global mobile operators and more than 300companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. It also organises Mobile World Congress inBarcelona Shanghai and San Francisco.
Telecoms lie at the heart of today's increasingly digital society and economy. As newgeneration of technologies and application innovations take root and industry structureget reshaped under competitive pressure operators will come across new operationalchallenges and more importantly opportunities. With our robust spectrum portfoliocompetitive position and management bandwidth we are well placed to take advantage ofthis rapidly changing environment to strengthen our leadership position even further.
Sunil Bharti Mittal