Vodafone CEO bemoans Jio effect on India

The Indian consumer might be surging into the digital economy at an unprecedented speed, but the telcos are certainly not reaping the rewards according to Vodafone CEO Nick Read.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Read pointed towards consumers which are consuming more data every single day (12 GB a month on average), as well as unsustainable business models and regulations which favour no-one except the disruptive influence of Jio. It isn’t necessarily a picture which creates an encouraging view of the market.

“We only ask for a level playing field,” said Read, bemoaning regulatory and competition rulings made in the country.

It seems Reid believes there has been an institutional preference towards the newest entrant into the Indian telco regime. This is also a company which is forcing the market to create artificially low tariffs, an unsustainable position for the market to maintain. What impact this has on the long-term prospects of India’s digital dream remain to be seen.

While it is hardly unusual for the CEO of a losing telco to moan about unfair market conditions, there have been some credible points made. Jio did certainly disrupt the market, helping the country move into the digital era, but there was certainly consequence. The aggressively low tariffs saw numerous telcos exit the space, either closing-down operations, merging with a rival or declaring bankruptcy.

Vodafone was one of those victims, currently in the process of merging its operations with long-term rival Idea Cellular. Reid highlighted he has been over to India to review the plans recently, and the team has managed to reduce the integration process from four years to two, but it is still losing money. That said, it is not alone.

The issue which remains here is what happens if this trend of Jio destruction is allowed to continue. How many more telcos will disappear from the landscape (there are only effectively four left, including government owned BSNL) before the government steps in to do something. The current position is not exactly ideal.

As it stands, India currently have four major telcos to provide connectivity services for roughly 1.3 billion people. Europe has roughly 160 telcos for a population of 500 million. Although many would argue there needs to be consolidation in the European space, the shortage of options in India is not exactly ideal. The risk of regionalised monopolies is certainly present.

Of course, the newly merged Vodafone Idea business is not lying down while Jio runs riot throughout India, Reid highlighted a Rights Issue is currently underway with the business hoping to raise $3.5 billion. Not only will this help the businesses merge and update infrastructure, it would be fair to assume some pretty aggressive counter-strikes against Jio.

India is one of the most interesting markets worldwide right now, but there is certainly a risk of the landscape devolving into chaos. Whether the Indian government is sympathetic to Reid’s plight remains to be seen, though current trends should not be allowed to continue.

SingTel saw Q4 profit drop by 14%

SingTel reported almost flat revenues and 14% decline in net profit in the quarter ending 31 December 2018, blaming negative influence from its investments in Australia and India.

In its quarterly results announcement, SingTel reported a 1% year-on-year growth in revenues to S$ 4.626 billion (1 Singapore $ = 0.74 US$), or 4% in constant currency, but 11% decline in EBITDA, and 14% decline in net profit. The first nine months of FY2019 saw revenues almost unchanged (up by 0.2%) of the same period the previous year, EBITDA down by 8%, and net profit down by 51%. The total free cash flow is still solid at S$2.5 billion although it went down by 10% from a year ago.

“We have stayed the course despite heightened competition and challenging market and economic conditions. We’ve continued to add postpaid mobile customers across our core business in both Singapore and Australia while making positive strides in the ICT and digital space,” said Chua Sock Koong, Singtel Group CEO. “We remain focused on investing in networks and building our digital capabilities – areas that are important to our customers and our future success. We will also step up on managing costs, growing revenues and driving efficiencies through increased digitalisation efforts.”

The key factor that impacted the results was the return on its investment in regional associates. The total profit before tax (PBT) in its regional associate portfolio went down by 35% to S$342 million. The worst hit was Airtel, which suffered a S$167 million decline in PBT and registered a pre-tax loss of S$129 million. When broken down to different markets, Airtel fared better in Africa but came under “continued pricing pressures” (from Jio)

In Australia, SingTel’s subsidiary Optus has delivered a healthy growth of 16% in total revenues  to A$1.64 billion (1 Australian $ = 0.71 US$). The mobile operator also switched on Australis’s first commercial 5G network in January. The slower than expected migration to NBN by broadband users, however, has brought in a 9% decline in mass market fixed revenue.

Despite lowering its outlook for the full financial year (ending 31 March) from stable EBITDA to single digital decline, SingTel was still confident in its long-term prospective. “Our long-term view on our regional associates remains positive as they continue to ride the growth in data and execute well against the challenges and competition,” added Chua, the CEO. “We expect the regional markets to revert to more sustainable market structures and deliver long-term profitable growth. Meanwhile, we are working closely with them to build a regional ecosystem of digital services that leverages the Group’s strengths and unlocks the value of our joint mobile customer base of over 675 million.”

 SingTel 3QFY2019 results

Jio claims another scalp as RCom is down and out

Reliance Communications has arguably gotten the sharpest end of the Jio stick over the last couple of years, but it seems the misery is finally over as the firm files for bankruptcy.

According to The Times of India, Chairman Anil Ambani has approached the National Company Law Tribunal to file for bankruptcy after a torrid couple of months which capped off a horrendous a couple of years. Although the team thought there might be some salvageable assets in a deal with Reliance Jio, this might prove to be the final chapter of the telco story for Anil.

Over the last couple of months, RCom has been attempting to navigate the red-tape maze to sell spectrum assets to Reliance Jio, though this transaction has been blocked due to no-one tackling responsibilities for debts owed to the Department of Telecommunications. The DoT was not willing to greenlight the deal until it had reassurances, though with RCom not able to pay and Jio not willing to, the deal entered a stalemate.

Of course, the plot thickens when you consider this cash was supposed to help RCom pay off various other debts, including one to Ericsson, which had been attempting to get Ambani arrested and imprisoned over the monies owed. It has all seemingly fizzled out into somewhat of a depressing end for RCom.

15 years ago, however, this would have been far from imaginable. The firm used to be one of the more promising telcos in a relatively lifeless market. India has long been one of the ‘BRIC’ nations, with potential fortunes enough to convince many to make a bet on the market. However, incumbent players were happy with the status quo and India fell behind the rest of the world in the digital rankings. That was until Anil’s brother Mukesh turned up with his new business Reliance Jio.

Reliance Jio changed the rules of the game and offered a disruptive data-driven service which appealed to the Indian consumer. Soon enough millions of Indians were ditching traditional telcos in pursuit of the glories hidden in digital society. RCom did not adapt and is now suffering the consequences of standing still for a decade.

RCom now joins a growing list of casualties in India. With the Vodafone/Idea merged business planning its assault, you have to hope this ‘new’ player will be able to offer some resistance to the Reliance Jio momentum. Although this is an admirable success story, there are a worryingly small number of telcos for such a vast market.

Jio bags another 10 million – how was your October?

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released the subscription data for October and it’s another familiar story as Reliance Jio grows its subscription base again.

Looking at the market on the whole, India now has 1.17 billion wireless subscriptions, having added another 720,000 during October. Amazingly, market penetration is now up to 87%. While growth has been staggering since Reliance Jio shunted the status quo, if the country follows what would be considered the traditional trend (mobile penetration eventually exceeding 100% of population) there are still a couple of hundred million mobile subscription to realise.

Unsurprisingly, Reliance Jio has greedily devoured almost all of the positive growth.

Subscription growth Market share
Reliance Jio 10,500,227 22.46%
BSNL 386,926 9.7%
Reliance (3,831) 0.002%
MTNL (8,068) 0.3%
Tata (925,299) 1.8%
Bharti Airtel (1,864,065) 29.2%
Vodafone Idea (7,361,165) 36.55%

With only BSNL, India’s state-owned telco, heading upwards Reliance Jio has firmly placed itself in the strongest position across the market. Bharti Airtel is in somewhat of a downward spiral and it’s difficult to see how it will get itself out of this position, therefore eyes will be cast towards Vodafone Idea for resistance to the Reliance Jio tsunami which is sweeping India.

Looking at these figures alone paints a relatively dreary picture, though you have to appreciate the complicated process the business is currently undertaking. The merger between Vodafone and Idea, which was caused by the jittery upstart Jio, is going through the rationalisation period right now. This is a very complex time and will define the firm’s ability to tackle the Reliance Jio headache in the months to come.

On the money side, we do not foresee this being a massive issue. Vodafone and Idea are merging two massive networks and will soon enough realise the benefits of scale. The subscriber base is massive, providing security for any future investments, and the sale of various different assets (such as the respective tower businesses) provides a hefty war-chest. Taking these factors into account, money should not be an issue, so we have to wonder whether the right people will be put into the right roles and if the right (and flexible enough) strategy will be put in place.

Vodafone Idea is now clearly the market leader in India, but it will only take a couple more months of Reliance Jio continuing on its current path for this lead to be eroded. The momentum is gathering behind Reliance Jio and new products and services (such as fixed broadband) will only add more as convergence ambitions are realised; the emphasis is certainly on Vodafone Idea to prove this isn’t turning into a one-man market.

TRAI reveals Jio is the only Indian telco in growth

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its monthly report on the state of play in India, and it’s a pretty gloomy picture for everyone aside from Jio.

Across the country, the message is relatively positive. Wireless subscriptions have grown once again this time by 2.4 million, not as glorious as previous months but growth is still growth, but to add a slight dampener to proceedings, broadband declined, this time by 70,000 subscriptions. Once again we reiterate the fixed broadband segment is one which is bursting with opportunity.

Sustained growth in India, while commendable, is not necessarily an interesting development as we have been saying the same thing for more than 18 months. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is who is capturing the additional subscriptions. Stating Jio has collected the lions share will surprise no-one, but September saw everyone else shrink.

Subscription growth Total market share
Reliance Jio 13.02 million 21.57%
MTNL -9,435 0.3%
Reliance -16,349 0.004%
BSNL -536,407 9.67%
Tata -1.01 million 1.88%
Bharti Airtel -2.36 million 29.38%
Vodafone -2.62 million 18.97%
Idea -4.06 million 18.23%

Reliance Jio has now firmly established itself in second place in the market share rankings, which has been a long-time coming, though it is starting to make genuine in-roads against Bharti Airtel. Each month new figures are released and while Bharti might have been able to maintain its position, recent figures have shown the eroding impact of Jio.

The issue for those who are trying to resist the Jio revolution is what is around the corner. Jio has made no secret of its plan to capitalise on the ridiculously low broadband penetration across the country, and you have to wonder what will happen when a more established network can be developed. The company recently purchased controlling stakes in Den Networks and Hathway Cable, offering it a foot through the door, though expect some big developments over the coming months.

Predicting what will happen is a simple task; Jio will take the same low-cost approach to broadband as it has with mobile, though the potential of a convergence product portfolio could further pile the misery onto competitors. How many customers might be tempted to switch over to Jio’s mobile proposition when a cheap broadband bundle is thrown in as well? This is what will be the most interesting development.

Jio has done an absolutely wonderful job of revolutionising the Indian digital economy, but what can be done on the fixed broadband side of things remains to be seen. Just as the story is starting to become repetitive, Jio is about to start on a new chapter.

We’ll be ready for 5G by 2020 – Reliance Jio

Reliance Jio owner Mukesh Ambani has stated India will be fully-4G by 2020, and is setting his eyes on the 5G euphoria already.

The statement of intent adds to a remarkable couple of years for Reliance Jio and the Indian digital economy on the whole. Starting from nothing in December 2015, Reliance Jio has risen to become arguably the most influential telco in India, dragging the country’s digital economy into the 21st century. A little over two years ago, India was in the digital baron lands, though now the Indian digital appetites are as insatiable as those in ‘developed’ nations.

“India has moved from 155th rank in mobile broadband penetration to being the number 1 nation in mobile data consumption in the world… in less than two years,” said Ambani at the India Mobile Congress, courtesy of Live Mint. “This is the fastest transition anywhere in the world from 2G/3G to 4G. By 2020, I believe that India will be a fully-4G country and ready for 5G ahead of others.”

Paying complements to the pro-active approach to stimulating the digital economy from the Indian government, Ambani is continuing the ambitious expansion of the Reliance Jio business. 5G is what will attract the headlines, most notably after a few telcos highlighted 5G is not a top priority for some nations at Broadband World Forum last week, but the broadband ambitions are just as important.

Tackling the 5G euphoria and increasing broadband penetration across the country perhaps work happily alongside each other when you consider the importance of a fibre network in both cases. The JioGigaFiber proposition, announced during the company’s AGM in July, promises FTTH connectivity in a market where broadband penetration is roughly 10%. ‘Fibering up’ the country is critical for 5G, and Reliance Jio has already started the mission.

“India will be among the largest digital markets in the world,” said Ambani. “Every enterprise must have an ‘India First’ vision to participate in this market. We will need to reinvent to grow and nurture this market to its full potential. This will be a win-win for the entire industry, for India and for the entire world.”

One interesting question which remains is whether the lessons taken from the Jio-effect can be implemented into other nations which are struggling in the lowly places of the digital league tables.

Jio readies itself for fixed broadband assault

Reliance Jio is set to pile more misery on Bharti Airtel with the launch of a low-cost fixed broadband offering.

It’s no secret Reliance Jio is eyeing up the fixed broadband market, though Bharti Airtel executives thought they might have had a bit more time. According to the Economic Times, Reliance Jio has bought controlling stakes in Den Networks and Hathway Cable, giving it a ‘headstart’ on the potentially lucrative segment.

The worry regarding the fixed broadband market is the opportunity. This might sound like a daft thing to say, but the opportunity has been staring incumbents in the face for years. None have actually done anything about it. Like the mobile market prior to the chaos caused by Reliance Jio, it is slumbering due to inaction, but that might all be about to change. If Reliance Jio can carry the momentum from the mobile and value services segments into the broadband space as well, the misery could continue for market incumbents.

According to the lastest figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI),while mobile subscription is surging (and with still a lot of room for growth), the fixed broadband market is stagnent in most regions and actually shrinking in others. There are currently 22.2 million broadband subscriptions in the country, compared to roughly 250 million households. Just to put things in perspective, broadband would have to grow 50-fold to even come close to the same scale as mobile.

With the acquisitions of Den Networks and Hathway Cable, Reliance Jio has a starting point. It can begin to rollout its own branded service and undercutting the market in the same way it did for mobile. Over the coming months, expect to see the insurgent telco aggresively spending to expand this infrastructure. Details are thin on the ground at the moment, though the intentions were outlined in May at Light Reading Big Communications Event by Mathew Oommen, President of Reliance Jio Infocomm. Home and enterprise penetration is incredibly low; there are billions to be made for those who are willing to spend to capitalise on the opportunity.

For the traditional telcos in the market, inaction might prove to be the downfall once again. Reliance Jio has destroyed profits for challengers in mobile and the same gameplan could work for fixed broadband. With such low penetration, the opportunity has always been there, but if you are happy with the status quo you are nothing more than a sitting duck. The likes of Bharti Airtel have no-one but itself to blame for missing out on the potential cash bonanza.

One of the most tired phrases in the technology world is disrupt or be disrupted. It’s a cliche which people dread hearing, but it is incredibly true here.

Jio earnings more than double as it tops a quarter of a billion subscribers

The spectacular, if unsurprising growth of Indian operator Reliance Jio continues with an annual EDITDA increase of 148%.

You can see the main numbers below and you don’t even need to be able to get your head around India’s arcane number system to see that everything’s moving in the right direction, fast. This doesn’t come as a great surprise since it put up similarly spectacular numbers last quarter too, but the Jio train is showing no sign of slowing.

Jio Q3 financials

“We, at Jio, are glad with our progress towards our mission with more than 250 million subscribers on our network within 25 months of commencement of services,” said Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani. “Our next generation FTTH and enterprise services are now being made available to our customers to further enhance our value proposition to our customers. We are making rapid progress on the growth of our digital platforms, across new commerce, media and entertainment, agriculture, education, healthcare and financial services, which will further enhance the quality of life and productivity of the people of India.”

Not content with all this ownage, Jio is splashing some of the cash that is now flowing in on some other strategic investments. It has grabbed majority stakes in Indian cablecos Den Networks, Hathway Cable and Datacom, as well as a 12.7% stake in US personal rapid transit company SkyTran,

“Our partnership with SkyTran reflects our commitment to invest in futuristic technologies,” said Jio Director Akash Ambani. “Reliance is well-poised to capitalize on its existing business portfolio and capabilities to accelerate the development of SkyTran across the world and especially in India.”

Check it out.

 

Jio leapfrogs Idea and Vodafone for second place in India

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has unveiled the monthly growth statistics for July and India is still the market which keeps giving.

Looking at the wireless segments to start with, Jio is once again dominating. Overall, the market grew by 10.5 million subscriptions taking the total to 1.15 billion. This number is already pretty staggering, though when you consider the total population of the country is over 1.3 billion there is still room for growth. In most developed markets the mobile penetration (the total number SIM cards) exceeds 100% of the population, while there are numerous cases of this percentage going north of 110%. Looking at these statistics in the simplest of terms, there is still potential for another couple of hundred million subscriptions in the country.

Of course, Jio is capitalizing most from the insatiable appetite of the Indian digital society. When looking at the total number of subscriptions secured by the telcos, Reliance Jio captured roughly 91% of the new customers, boosting its subscription base by 11.7 million. Amazingly, the 609,000 subs captured by Vodafone or the 313,000 attributed to Bharti Airtel are nothing more than footnotes; how many markets are there were you could say that!

The end result is continued momentum for Jio. As you can see below, Jio has leapfrogged both Vodafone and Idea in the market share rankings. That said, with the much-anticipated merger on the horizon it won’t be long before the combined entity hits top spot.

Telco Net Adds Market Share
Reliance Jio 11,796,630 19.62%
Vodafone 609,974 19.3%
Bharti Airtel 313,283 29.81%
BSNL 225,962 9.8%
Idea 5,489 19.07%
MTNL -9,914 0.3%
Reliance Communications -31,814 0.004%
Tata -2,357,690 2.1%

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these statistics is in the broadband market however. The staggering growth of the mobile segment will continue for at least the short- to mid-term future, though with a total of 22.2 million broadband subscribers there is an incredible opportunity for the right offering.

Just to put these numbers in perspective, the broadband would have to grow 50-fold to even come close to the same scale as mobile. Admittedly, it significantly more expensive to invest in infrastructure for a future-proofed broadband network in comparison to mobile, but this is an area which seems primed for the right disruption.

Of course, with disruption comes uncomfortable truths. Jio might be on an upward trend, collecting subscriptions and hiring generously, though the consequence of this disruption has been market consolidation. In the most general terms possible, consolidation is never a positive for the job market, while the Financial Express is reporting job losses of 50,000-75,000 in the Indian telco market across 2018.

Jio closes the gap as Indian market continues growth

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has released its monthly update on telco subscribers across the country, and Jio is continuing to erode the gap with its rivals.

On the whole, the Indian telco market is continuing to grow. Wireless subscriptions increased by 1.37%, adding just over 15 million new subscriptions to the armoury taking the total up to 1.14 billion across the country.

What is slightly encouraging is the fairly balanced uptake; there might be a social divide between the rural and urban communities, but this difference does not seem to be compounded by digital as the revolution sweeps throughout the nation. In the urban regions, wireless subs increased 1.27% to 633 million, while it was 1.49% to 512 million in the rural areas.

Looking at the individual winners, Jio has been hoovering up subscriptions, though Idea Cellular has also made an impact this quarter. Perhaps this is a sign the Jio effect is starting to fade, as it would appear growth has been amassed from new subscriptions as opposed to eroding the customer base of competitors.

Telco Net adds Market Share
Jio 9,713,047 18.78%
Idea Cellular 6,369,785 19.24%
Vodafone 275,219 19.43%
Bharti 10.689 30.05%
BSNL 244,285 9.87%

Momentum is still with Jio galloping up the market share rankings, though with the competitors stabilising their own numbers it might appear the major disruption is over. That is, until Jio decides to launch another ridiculous offer, or in a few years’ time when 5G appears in the country. Looking at the ridiculous Jio idea, you can’t help but assume it might come in the form of a convergence play.

Wireless subscriptions are shooting upwards, though broadband is certainly not on the same trajectory. As it stands there are only 22 million broadband subscriptions in the country out of almost 250 million households. Over the course of June, broadband subscriptions actually declined 0.5%. Jio has already told us the next wave of disruption will come in the broadband space, and when combined with its media and entertainment assets, there is a huge opportunity to run a convergence play.

Stealing subscriptions by undercutting can only go on for so long, but now Indian consumers have become addicted to the taste of the internet through mobile, the broadband opportunity becomes a lot more appealing. Jio has a huge mobile customer base, which it can continue to grow, though leveraging this asset by launching additional services could be a very profitable idea.