India's Bharti Airtel to reduce debt and fuel growth with $2.87 billion capital raise

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - The founder of Bharti Airtel said on Monday the Indian wireless carrier wanted to improve its access to growth capital and reduce its debt leverage a day after it announced its plans to raise up to 210 billion rupees ($2.87 billion) via a sale of shares to existing shareholders.

Bharti founder-chairman Sunil Mittal said the company had been burdened with extraordinary debt and he felt confident that now was the time to invest and grow.

The telecom operator is raising money at a time when it is preparing for the launch of 5G services which it hopes will be a reality by the second half of the next year.

With more than 352 million subscribers, Airtel which is India's second biggest carrier said it will not shy away from raising prices further but will move towards it gradually.

In the last few years India's telecom market has seen an intense price war after Mukesh Ambani-controlled Jio Infocomm entered the market in late 2016 and launched free voice calls and cut data prices..

Mittal also expects mobile average revenue per user (ARPU), a key metric for telecoms companies to inch up to 200 rupees by the end of this financial year.

Airtel's quarterly ARPU was 146 rupees for the quarter ended June.

Buoyed by Mittal's speech Bharti's shares ended 4.3% higher after the investor call with the shares posting their biggest daily gain in over a month.

Mittal also urged the government to step up investments in digital infrastructure as he expected the levies and burdens on telecom companies to come down.

"We have been also urging the government to attend to some pressing issues inhibiting continued investments in the sector given the negative to low returns," Mittal added.

(Reporting by Nupur Anand; Editing by David Evans)

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