Accelerating consolidation in telecom industry to benefit top players, but poses risk to tower companies: CLSA

Consolidation in India mobile is set to accelerate and this bodes well for top operators, presenting them with an opportunity to outpace the sector growth.

The accelerating consolidation in the telecom industry will benefit top operators but pose some "risk" to tower companies given the tenancy, according to a latest CLSA report. Consolidation in India mobile is set to accelerate and this bodes well for top operators, presenting them with an opportunity to outpace the sector growth and improve share and profitability, it said.

A Telecom Tower.

A Telecom Tower.

Besides the ongoing Vodafone-Idea Cellular mega merger, it took note of the smaller exits in the sector. "The scaling down/exit of business by smaller mobile operators will place in aggregate about 20 per cent of industry cell sites at risk," CLSA said in the report on telecom sector outlook. Among the tower companies, GTL Infrastructure, ATC India and Reliance Infratel "will be most impacted as over 85 per cent of sites at risk are on their towers", the CLSA report claimed.

It further estimated that about 5 per cent of Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers tenancies "could be at risk". Reliance Communications, which is reeling under a debt burden of about Rs 46,000 crore, recently called off merger talks with Aircel, citing "legal and regulatory" delays. The two had signed binding agreements in September 2016 for the merger of their mobile business. RComs Rs 11,000 crore tower deal with Brookfield is also being reworked following termination of wireless merger talks with Aircel.

On the other hand, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran told CNBC TV18 in a recent interview that he will take a "tough call" on Tata Teleservices this fiscal. Tata Teleservices is burdened by Rs 31,000 crore debt in addition to spectrum liability and incurring cash losses on a month-on-month basis. On similar lines, Goldman Sachs - citing recent reports on Tata Teleservices - said any move to shut down services could mean an immediate reallocation of its current 5 per cent revenue marketshare among top operators.

Noting that both Bharti and Jio have been "fairly aggressive" in subscriber acquisition recently, Goldman Sachs said the duo will continue to benefit from consolidation at the tail end of the market. The report further said that despite valuable spectrum held by the Tata Group company, there may be a few takers for the radiowaves. This is because all incumbent telcos have enough spectrum to take care of their data demand needs for next 3-5 years, it reasoned.

"...given high debt levels in the sector, telcos may choose not to acquire any new spectrum in near future," the report said but did not completely rule out the possibility of Bharti and Jio selectively acquiring spectrum in a few circles. At the last auction determined prices, Tatas spectrum is worth USD 2.4 billion, estimated the Goldman Sachs report.

Disclaimer: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.


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