By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM, May 26 (Reuters) - Israeli telecoms group Partner Communications posted a 50% decline in first-quarter net profit and said it expected the negative impact from the coronavirus pandemic to continue in the second quarter, while its internet and TV services grow.
Partner, Israel's second-largest mobile operator, said on Wednesday it earned 5 million shekels ($1.5 million) in the January-March period, down from 10 million a year earlier when it had a one-time gain of 20 million shekels.
Revenue gained 3% to 833 million shekels, returning to pre-pandemic levels, boosted by a rapid roll-out of a fibre optics network and growth in overall internet and TV customers.
Chief Financial Officer Tamir Amar said revenue in Partner's fixed-line segment "more than offset the revenue loss in the cellular segment due to the near complete absence of roaming services" stemming from Israel's borders being closed to foreign tourists for more than a year.
Israel has started to allow small groups of vaccinated foreign tourist groups to enter.
Still, despite a slight rise in roaming revenue in the first quarter, the negative impact of the slump in air travel would continue in the second quarter, Amar said.
Partner's mobile subscriber base grew by 67,000 in the first three months of 2021 to 2.9 million, while customers for its TV service reached 232,000. Its ultra-fast internet service had 165,000 customers, double the year-earlier quarter.
Amar said Partner would continue its roll-out of its fibre optics and Israel's nascent fifth-generation (5G) mobile network that "will continue to provide us with substantial growth engines."
Israel is preparing for a tender to allocate more 5G frequencies as soon as late 2021, aiming in part to give mobile operators a new revenue stream.
Even before the pandemic, Partner and its peers had struggled to remain profitable after a shake-up of Israel's mobile phone industry in 2012.
Last week, rival Cellcom posted a 7 million shekels quarterly profit, its first profit since 2018.
($1 = 3.2395 shekels) (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Stephen Coates)