Aided by strong growth in most advanced and emerging markets global economy stayed oncourse in its rebound mode during the year. Overall our company experienced favorableeconomic environments in both India and Africa. While India recovered remarkably well fromthe prolonged dissonance caused by demonetization which was undertaken in FY 17 and theteething troubles of Goods and Service Tax (GST) introduced during the current yearAfrican economies benefited from stability in currencies and commodity prices whichresulted in healthy balance of payment situation in many countries.
Digital technologies and internet are pivotal to transformation happening around us social industrial economic. Global telecommunications industry which lies at theheart of this transformation too is undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts; operators aretransforming from pure play telecom to being digital services providers integratingconnectivity and content across multiple screens. New technologies like IOT
AI Block chain and big data analytics are likely to make these networks the primaryfacilitator of change in future. Affordable smartphones which have become the predominantgateway to internet for customers across age groups and geographies and rapidlyproliferating 4G networks helped accelerate market transformation during the year. It wasparticularly evident in India where average data consumption per user went up by nearlysix times to over 6GB per month in Q4 (FY18) from about 1GB in Q4 (FY17). African marketstoo exhibited buoyancy where average usage on our networks expanded by about 90%.
The telecom industry faced an extraordinarily turbulent year in India throughunprecedented disruption. Extreme pricing pressure accelerated market exits and industryconsolidation which evolved towards a 3+1 structure (3 private telcos + 1 public sectortelco). Even though the transition is turning out to be stressful entailing massivedislocation in the short run the new industry structure will ultimately prove beneficialfor the sector. We have done well to capitalize on emergent opportunities from thisindustry shakeup. While we completed the acquisitions of Tikona and Telenor the proposedmerger with the consumer business of Tata Teleservices Maharashtra and Tata Teleservicesis under regulatory approval.
Our strategy of growing our share of high ARPU customers and improving customerstickiness by offering new products and content services helped us increase our revenuemarket share in a rapidly consolidating market undergoing significant revenue shrinkage.It was gratifying to see the way we held ourselves as pressure mounted on the topline ofour mobility business. Aggressive network rollout continued to be an overriding priorityfor us as a record 110000 mobile sites were rolled out during the year to strengthen our4G footprint. This will help us stay ahead of competition through enhanced datacapabilities and better customer service.
Acceleration in non-wireless businesses remained an unmistakable bright spot for usduring the year. DTH and B2B business registered healthy double digit topline growth thushighlighting the inherent advantages of a diversified business portfolio. The PaymentsBank had a good start but faced issues in KYC authentication leading to disruption inacquiring new customers. The Bank with a new CEO and enhanced preparedness is now gearedto get back on track towards the goal of driving financial inclusion in the Country.
In Africa it turned out to be a defining year for us. Sharply improved EBITDA marginsto 33.4% from 24% last year enabled us to achieve full year PAT for the first time sinceacquisition.
Modernized data networks - 3G networks in all 14 countries and 4G networks in 8countries (6 of them rolled out this year) - facilitated a surge in data consumption indifferent African markets. Simplified voice and data bundles coupled with robustdistribution and a refined cost model helped us achieve operational excellence indifferent markets. Data revenues expanded by over 22% during the year. Airtel Money toocontinued to be a key revenue pillar growing by 47% during this period.
In-country consolidation with a clear intent to become No. 1 or No. 2 operatorcontinued to be a strategic imperative for us. While we merged operations with Millicom inGhana to form a 50:50 joint venture we acquired Millicoms business in Rwanda tobecome a viable No. 2 in the market.
We undertook several initiatives to raise capital to support our business plans. Duringthe year we divested around 150 million shares in our subsidiary Bharti Infratel throughsecondary sale for a consideration of over H 5895 crores. We also issued non-convertibledebentures worth up to H 3000 crores on a private placement basis. I am pleased to informyou that the board of Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) B.V. has authorized themanagement to initiate non-binding exploratory discussions with various intermediaries toevaluate the possibility of listing the Africa operations on an internationally recognizedstock exchange.
Bharti Foundation our group philanthropic arm extended the reach of its activitiessignificantly during the year. Its school education programs are today cumulativelyreaching out to nearly 250000 students across 13 states in India. I am particularlydelighted to inform you that during the year Bharti Foundation embarked upon its mostambitious Higher education initiative till date to set up Satya Bharti University a worldclass institution to offer free education to deserving youth from economically weakersections of society. The sanitation program which is already serving over 90000beneficiaries moved into its second phase under which the Foundation is providingfinancial assistance to beneficiaries to construct household toilets. Airtel AfricasAdopt-a-School Program is now supporting over 32000 underprivileged childrenin 58 adopted schools in different countries. The Company has also scaled up its Internetfor Schools initiative to benefit over 300000 students in Kenya and Zambia. We plan toscale this up significantly over the next year.
Personally it turned out to be an exciting year for me in my concurrent global roles -Chairman ICC and Chairman GSMA.
As a business entity we have always believed in staying ahead of the curve with regardto adopting best practices in transparency and corporate governance. In line with thisphilosophy we have embraced Integrated Reporting (IR) and the present report is the firstIntegrated Report for us.
Telecom markets across emerging economies are in transition. While life cycles of 2Gand 3G are getting truncated 4G is taking rapid strides. Market structures are gettingreshaped with fewer players to facilitate these investments. With our strong balance sheetand robust spectrum portfolio across markets we are well positioned to make the best ofthis transition to come out stronger.
Sunil Bharti Mittal