While announcing its FY23 earnings, UK telecom company, Vodafone Plc said the Group’s carrying value of investment in Indian listed firm Vodafone Idea (Vi) is Zero. Also, that the Group is recording no further losses related to Vi. The troubled-laden Vi is still in need of additional liquidity and plans to raise funds going forward. In its FY23 report, Vodafone Plc said, “VIL remains in need of additional liquidity support from its lenders and intends to raise additional funding.”
Vodafone seems to be backing away from Vi. The business needs more money, that Vodafone is certainly not willing to provide, and that zero valuation indicates that it will put no more effort into saving it. There are significant uncertainties in relation to Vi’s ability to make payments in relation to any remaining liabilities covered by the mechanism and no further cash payments are considered probable from the Group as at 31 March 2023, it added.
“VIL [Vodafone Idea Ltd] remains in need of additional liquidity support from its lenders and intends to raise additional funding. There are significant uncertainties in relation to VIL’s ability to make payments in relation to any remaining liabilities covered by the mechanism and no further cash payments are considered probable from the Group as at 31 March 2023,” Vodafone said, in the notes to its consolidated financial statements for the 2023 financial year.
Furthermore, Vodafone said, “the carrying value of the Group’s investment in VIL is nil and the Group is recording no further share of losses in respect of VIL.”
It should be noted that Vi is the only Indian telco that has NOT yet deployed 5G services. Since the launch of 5G last October, Reliance Jio’s 5G services have become available in more than 400 cities and towns, while Airtel’s 5G services can be accessed in more than 500. Jio plans to provide all-India 5G coverage by December, with Airtel aiming for blanket availability by March next year.
Recently, Vodafone Idea complained to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), accusing its rivals of predatory 5G pricing. Although it has been shedding customers for years, there can be little doubt that losses have accelerated since the launch of 5G. Vodafone Idea had lost about 7 million in the four months leading up to 5G’s launch in October last year. In the four months following the introduction of 5G services by Airtel and Jio, its losses soared to about 10 million.
Vodafone Idea is known to have a significant percentage of high-spending customers who have remained loyal to it. These customers typically show limited interest in lower tariffs, but many will have been drawn to 5G services available only from other telcos, with Vodafone Idea’s 5G plan nowhere close to fruition. Airtel and Jio, accordingly, are racing to build 5G networks and attract as many Vodafone Idea subscribers as possible.
When Vodafone and Idea Cellular entered into an merger agreement in 2017, the parties had agreed to a mechanism for payments between the Group and Vodafone Idea, pursuant to the difference between the crystallisation of certain identified contingent liabilitiesin relation to legal, regulatory, tax and other matters, and refunds relating to Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. Cash payments s or cash receipts relating to these matters must have been made or received by Vi before any amount becomes due from or owed to the Group.
Hence, any future future payments by the Group to VIL as a result of this agreement would only be made after satisfaction of this and other contractual conditions. Thereby, the UK-based telco said, “Vodafone Group’s potential exposure to liabilities within VIL is capped by the mechanism described above; consequently, contingent liabilities arising from litigation in India concerning operations of Vodafone India are not reported.”
Vodafone Plc’s potential exposure under this mechanism is capped at ₹64 billion n (€719 million) following payments made under this mechanism from Vodafone to VIL, in the year ended 31 March 2021, totalling ₹19 billion (€235 million).
In FY23, Vodafone Plc’s revenue increased by 0.3% to €45.7 billion driven by growth in Africa and higher equipment sales, offset by lower European service revenue and adverse exchange rate movements. While adjusted EBITDAal declined by 1.3% to €14.7 billion due to higher energy costs, and commercial underperformance in Germany.
After numerous delays, India’s government finally completed its 5G spectrum auction on its seventh day. 5G spectrum worth 1.5 trillion Indian rupees (US $18.99 billion) being sold to the country’s three mobile network operators – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea – and Adani Group, with Jio emerging as the top bidder, according to media reports.
Bharti Airtel has announced that it has awarded its first 5G contract in the country to Ericsson with 5G deployment to get underway in August 2022. Ericsson is Airtel’s long-standing connectivity partner and pan-India managed services provider, with a partnership spanning more than 25 years. The latest 5G partnership follows the close of 5G spectrum auctions in India. In a statement, Airtel said that it will deploy power-efficient 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) products and solutions from the Ericsson Radio System and Ericsson microwave mobile transport solutions.
The company also signed agreements with Nokia and Samsung to build 5G capacity in India. Under the agreement, Nokia will provide equipment for AirScale portfolio, including modular and scalable baseband as well as high-capacity 5G massive MIMO radios.
Meanwhile, Ericsson will be providing 5G connectivity in 12 circles for Bharti Airtel. In addition to an enhanced user experience for Airtel customers – spanning ultra-high-speeds, low latency and large data handling capabilities – Ericsson 5G network products and solutions will also enable Bharti Airtel to pursue new, innovative use cases with its enterprise and industry customers, claimed the company.
Bharti Airtel has announced that it has acquired 19,800 MHz spectrum by securing a pan-India footprint of 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands. This spectrum bank was secured for a total consideration of Rs 43,084 crore in the latest spectrum auction conducted by the Department of Telecom, Government of India. Airtel acquired 19,867.8 MHz spectrum in 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz frequency bands for Rs 43,084 crore. Airtel has secured 5G spectrum for 20 years in this auction.
Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal, MD and chief executive officer said, “As our trusted, long-term technology partner, we are delighted to award our first 5G contract to Ericsson for 5G deployment in India. “5G presents a game-changing opportunity to drive the digital transformation of industries, enterprises and the socio-economic development of India. With our 5G network, we aim to deliver the full benefits of 5G connectivity, fuel India’s journey towards a digital economy and strengthen the country’s position on the world stage.”
“5G presents a game-changing opportunity to drive the digital transformation of industries, enterprises and the socio-economic development of India. With our 5G network, we aim to deliver the full benefits of 5G connectivity, fuel India’s journey towards a digital economy and strengthen the country’s position on the world stage.”
Börje Ekholm, President and CEO, Ericsson, says: “We look forward to supporting Bharti Airtel with its deployment of 5G in India. With Ericsson’s unrivaled, global 5G deployment experience, we will help Bharti Airtel deliver the full benefits of 5G to Indian consumers and enterprises, while seamlessly evolving the Bharti network from 4G to 5G. 5G will enable India to realize its Digital India vision and foster inclusive development of the country.”
Reliance Jio may also launch 5G in August:
It is likely that arch rival Reliance Jio too may launch the 5G services this month. “We will celebrate ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ with a pan India 5G rollout. Jio is committed to offering world-class, affordable 5G and 5G-enabled services. We will provide services, platforms and solutions that will accelerate India’s digital revolution, especially in crucial sectors like education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and e-governance,” said Akash M Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio Infocomm.
However, no disclosure of Jio’s 5G vendor(s) over two years after Ambani said Jio was developing its own “homegrown” 5G network equipment. The Business Standard reports that Jio had selected Samsung to build its pan-India 5G network.
India network operator Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi) today announced its collaboration with Nashua, NH based A5G Networks, Inc. to enable industry 4.0 and smart mobile edge computing in India.
Vi and A5G Networks have together set up a pilot private network in Mumbai utilizing existing 4G spectrum.
Vi’s association with A5G Networks is in line with its commitment to realize Digital India dreams with the latter’s differentiated and unique 4G, 5G, and Wi-Fi autonomous software for distributed Networks. A5G Networks software is fully cloud-native containerized built for hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructure.
“Vi is committed to providing superior services to digital enterprises and consumers to enhance user experiences, empowered by an autonomous network,” said Mr. Jagbir Singh, Chief Technology Officer, Vodafone Idea Ltd. “As part of our digital transformation journey on the 5G roadmap, we are happy to partner with A5G Networks to bring new services enabling industry 4.0 and smart cities in the digital era.”
“We are excited to be a part of this important journey for Digital India with Vi,” said Rajesh Mishra, Founder, and CEO of A5G Networks. “Vi is committed to delivering best-in-class services to their subscribers and driving the Digital India movement. Success depends upon a highly resilient, secure, and flexible network infrastructure.
In November 2020, Mishra told Light Reading he decided to start A5G Networks due to the growth in the Open RAN market, where Parallel Wireless has been a leading player. “When you have a lot of [Open] RANs, what happens then?” Mishra said, explaining that A5G Networks will sell software for network orchestration. “The timing was right,” he said of his departure from Parallel Wireless, citing the status of open RAN in the wider wireless market. “I’ve got to start working and building.”
Vi is partnering with technology leaders and innovators to set up digital networks enabling several low latency applications, private networks, smart cities, and connected cars.
The 5G Open Innovation Lab (“5GOILab”), a global applied innovation ecosystem for corporations, academia and government institutions, selects 15 early- to late-stage companies twice a year to join our enterprise innovation program. Companies are led by founders that have demonstrated a vision and strategy for leveraging 5G networks to achieve digital transformation in the enterprise and advance applications and solutions in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, edge computing and IoT. A5G and Santa Clara CA based EdgeQ (4G/5G base station on a chip) were selected to participate. A5G Networks for enabling distributed and disaggregated network of networks to create autonomous private and public 4G, 5G, and WiFi Networks.
The Lab does not take an equity position in its member companies, rather, companies collaborate with 5G technology experts and business advisors through CEO and CTO roundtables, private working sessions, virtual networking and social events, and opportunities to meet with the Lab’s extensive partner network of venture capital firms.
About Vodafone Idea Limited:
Vodafone Idea Limited is an Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Group partnership. It is India’s leading telecom service provider. The Company provides pan India Voice and Data services across 2G, 3G, 4G and has a 5G ready platform. With the large spectrum portfolio to support the growing demand for data and voice, the company is committed to deliver delightful customer experiences and contribute towards creating a truly ‘Digital India’ by enabling millions of citizens to connect and build a better tomorrow. The Company is developing infrastructure to introduce newer and smarter technologies, making both retail and enterprise customers future ready with innovative offerings, conveniently accessible through an ecosystem of digital channels as well as extensive on-ground presence.
The company offers products and services to its customers in India under the TM Brand name “Vi”.
For more information, please visit: www.MyVi.in and www.vodafoneidea.com
About A5G Networks Inc:
A5G Networks Inc. is a leader and innovator in autonomous mobile network infrastructure. The company is headquartered in Nashua, NH, USA with offices in Pune MH, India. A5G Networks is pioneering secure and scalable 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi software to enable distributed network of networks. To learn more about A5G Networks, visit www.a5gnet.com
India’s struggling telco Vodafone Idea is partnering with engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro for a pilot project to test 5G-based smart city solutions, as part of its ongoing 5G trials on government-allocated spectrum.
In the pilot to be conducted in the city of Pune, the companies will collaborate to test and validate 5G use cases built on IoT and video AI technologies leveraging L&T’s Smart City platform, Fusion, to address the challenges of urbanization, safety and security, and offering smart solutions to the citizens.
Vi has deployed its 5G trial in a setup of end-to-end captive network of Cloud Core, new C1 – Vodafone Idea External generation Transport and Radio Access Network.
Abhijit Kishore, chief enterprise business officer at Vodafone Idea, said: “Telecommunications solutions are the backbone of building smart and sustainable cities. The advent of 5G technology opens whole new opportunities to address challenges of urban growth and provide end-to-end solutions to support sustainable creation of Smart Cities, in the future. Vodafone Idea is happy to partner with Larsen & Toubro to test 5G based Smart City solutions and utilize our mutual expertise to find solutions that can help shape cities of the future.”
“In this constantly-evolving world, we are seeing an exponential rise in demand for smarter and more intelligent solutions and L&T Smart World is committed towards leveraging the latest technological innovations in the IoT and Telecommunications areas to benefit society at large. We are excited to partner with Vodafone Idea to bring to the table our experience, of having successfully executed several smart solutions across Indian cities, to develop customized, IoT-driven 5G solutions for various industry and enterprise verticals”, said J. D. Patil, senior executive VP of Defense and smart technologies at L&T.
The partnership between Vodafone Idea and Larsen & Toubro will trial several 5G use cases that cover 5G services such as enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). The firms said that the partnership will help to analyze the performance requirements of smart city applications and business models in 5G, design and implement 5G-based “smart and safe city” applications and use data analytics tools to visualize and analyze the trial results.
Vodafone Idea (Vi) has been allocated 26 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum in the mmWave band by India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), for their 5G network trials and use cases. In its initial test results Vi has achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps with very low latency on the mmWave spectrum band. These speeds were achieved with state-of-the-art equipment in 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) network using 5G NR compliant radios. The Indian telco has also achieved peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in a 3.5 GHz-band 5G trial network with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.
The high speed and low latency characteristics of 5G network may enable improved surveillance and video streaming/broadcast to permit the evolution of 5G smart cities and smart factories. Smart City and Industry 4.0 will hopefully accelerate with 5G deployment and usher in new era of Digital India.
As forVi’s two telco competitors:
- Bharti Airtel has recently demonstrated India’s first 5G rural trial using network equipment from Ericsson. It has also showcased 5G cloud gaming.
- India’s wireless network market leader Reliance Jio has trialed 5G VoNR, AI-multimedia chatbot, and immersive high-definition (HD) virtual reality.
The DoT had approved applications of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone in May, and MTNL later for 5G trials. The permission has been granted for six-month trials with telecom gear makers Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and C-DOT.
After much delay, India’s 4G spectrum auction has ended in just two days, raising Indian Rupee (INR) 778 billion (US $10.6 billion) for the government. The auction was held on March 1st and 2nd by India’s Department of Telecommunications. The airwaves acquired will help India’s telecom network operators add 4G capacity and get ready for 5G.
India auctioned spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz frequency bands. However, the 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because of the high reserve price.
India telecom network operators Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea won spectrum in the government’s latest auction.
India’s largest telco, Reliance Jio announced it has acquired the right to use spectrum in all 22 circles across India in the auction. The upstart network operator secured spectrum in the 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz frequency bands, which increases Jio’s spectrum footprint by 55 percent to 1,717 MHz.
Jio will pay INR 571.23 billion for the right to use this spectrum for a period of 20 years. Payments can be made over a period of 18 years (2-year moratorium plus 16-year repayment period), with interest at 7.3 percent per year.
Reliance Jio now claims to have the highest amount of sub-GHz spectrum with 2×10 MHz contiguous spectrum in most circles. It also has at least 2×10 MHz in the 1800 MHz band and 40 MHz in the 2300 MHz band in each of the 22 circles. The operator also reports it has achieved complete spectrum derisking, with average life of owned spectrum of 15.5 years. Reliance Jio will acquire the spectrum with an effective cost of INR 608 million per MHz. Jio also says the acquired spectrum can be used for provision of 5G services.
“The acquired spectrum can be utilized for transition to 5G services at the appropriate time, where Jio has developed its own 5G stack,” says the Jio press release.
India’s second-largest network service provider, Bharti Airtel acquired 355.45 MHz of spectrum across sub-GHz, mid-band and 2300 MHz bands for a total price of INR 186.99 billion. Airtel will use this spectrum to upgrade its deep indoor and in-building coverage in urban towns. In addition, this spectrum will also help improve its coverage in villages by offering the superior Airtel experience to an additional 90 million customers in India. Airtel also plans to use this spectrum to deliver 5G services in future.
An Airtel statement mentioned that the “the reserve pricing of these bands [700MHz and 3.5GHz] must be addressed on priority in future. This will help the nation to benefit from the digital dividend that will inevitably arise out of this.”
“Airtel has now secured pan-India footprint of sub GHz spectrum that will help improve its deep indoor and in building coverage in every urban town,” as per the company’s statement.
Vodafone Idea entered this spectrum auction “holding the largest quantum of spectrum with a very small fraction, which was administratively allocated and used for GSM services, coming up for renewal”.
As a result, Vodafone Idea acquired spectrum in only five circles for INR 19.93 billion. The operator said it has used this opportunity to optimize spectrum holdings post-merger to create further efficiencies in a few circles. Vodafone Idea expects the spectrum it has acquired in five circles to help it enhance its 4G coverage and capacity.
India’s just completed spectrum auction does not contain any airwaves for 5G
Reliance Jio’s decision to be the biggest spenders at the auction comes shortly after its holding company, Jio Platforms, reported ₹22,858 crore in revenue during the quarter to December, which was a 30% improvement from the year prior.
Last year, Jio Platforms sold a third of itself to others for ₹152,056 crore. Buyers included Google, Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, General Atlantic, KKR, Mubadala, ADIA, TPG, L Catterton, PIF, Intel Capital, and Qualcomm Ventures.
Reliance Jio may launch its much touted 5G services using the next generation 5G standalone (GSMA Option 2) architecture for its network, Business Standard reported.
The telco may skip the current non-standalone 5G. The NSA 5G architecture enables operators to leverage their existing investments in their 4G LTE networks and reduce capital costs. Mukesh Ambani recently said that Jio intends to roll-out 5G services in India in the second half of 2021.
Image Credit: Reliance Jio
Conversely, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel said that 5G will take 2-3 years to reach mass scale in India’s market. Nonetheless, Airtel recently applied for both NSA and SA 5G trials to test its network architecture.
“Even though the majority of countries are offering 5G using NSA, SA is also being used for 5G services. Airtel feels it’s a good time to test its network using both modes,” a person familiar with the development told ETTelecom.
Airtel is planning to do Standalone 5G trials in Karnataka and Kolkata using Nokia and Ericsson 5G gear, respectively. In both circles, ZTE and Huawei currently power the Sunil Mittal-led telco’s 4G network.
Non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) are two 5G tracks that communication service providers can opt for when transitioning from 4G to the next-generation mobile technology. In NSA, the existing 4G LTE network is used for everything except the 5G data plane, which is usually based on 3GPP Release 15 version of 5G NR. 5G NSA enables operators to leverage their existing investments in their 4G LTE networks and reduce capital costs, but it can’t support new 5G features such as network slicing.
Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and BSNL recently submitted a list of “preferred vendors” which includes European and American companies for 5G field trials with the telecom department (DoT).
Jio had submitted fresh applications for 5G trials with Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, and for its own 5G technology. The largest Indian telco recently submitted an application trial of its own 5G technology in South Mumbai and Navi Mumbai areas, while it intends to do trials with Samsung in other areas like Bandra Kurla complex, Kamothe Navi Mumbai, and Solapur with Maharashtra.
Jio intends to 5G trials with Nokia in Pune and Ahmednagar, and with Ericsson in Delhi areas like Chandani chowk and Shashtri Nagar and in Dabwali in Haryana.
by Danish Khan (edited and augmented by Alan J Weissberger)
The deployment of massive MIMO  technology has led to a series of claims and counter claims between India wireless network operators Vodafone Idea Ltd. (VIL) and Bharti Airtel. Both privately held telcos claim that they lead in terms of the deployment size of this pre-5G technology.
Note 1. Massive multiple-input, multiple-output, or massive MIMO, is an extension of MIMO, which essentially groups together antennas at the transmitter and receiver to provide better throughput and better spectrum efficiency.
Moving from MIMO to massive MIMO, according to IEEE, involves making “a clean break with current practice through the use of a large excess of service antennas over active terminals and time-division duplex operation. Extra antennas help by focusing energy into ever smaller regions of space to bring huge improvements in throughput and radiated energy efficiency.”
Many different configurations and deployment scenarios for the actual antenna arrays used by a massive MIMO system can be envisioned (see Fig. 1). Each antenna unit would be small and active, preferably fed via an optical or electric digital bus.
Figure 1. Some possible antenna configurations and deployment scenarios for a massive MIMO base station.
In a statement, Huawei said that Bharti Airtel has deployed more than 100 hops of enhanced MIMO microwave link based on the latest MIMO technology developed by the Chinese gear maker. The deployment, Huawei said, will deliver 1Gbps capacity over a single 28 Mhz spectrum, improving the backhaul capacity by four times.
“Bharti implements the largest-scale MIMO deployment around the world,” Huawei said in the statement. Airtel had made its first commercial deployment of massive MIMO in September 2017.
Bharti Airtel today (Sept 26, 2017) announced the deployment of India’s first state-of-the-art Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology which is a key enabler for 5G networks. As one of the few commercial deployment of Massive MIMO globally, the deployment puts India on the world map of technology advancement and digital revolution. Airtel is starting with the first round of deployment in Bangalore & Kolkata and will expand to other parts of the country.
Deployed as part of Airtel’s ongoing network transformation program, Project Leap, the Massive MIMO technology will expand existing network capacity by five to seven times using the existing spectrum, thereby improving spectral efficiency. Customers will now be able to experience two to three times superfast speeds on the existing 4G network. Data speeds will now also be seamless, offering enhanced user experience even indoors, in crowded places and high rise buildings. It would enable multiple users and multiple devices to work simultaneously without facing any congestion or experience issues especially at hotspot locations.
But in an interview with ET last week, Vodafone Idea chief technology officer, Vishant Vora had claimed that it was the leader in MIMO deployments in India. “We have deployed over 10,000 massive MIMOs in India. This is the largest deployment of massive MIMOs in India and neither of my two competitors has that. They are 100-200 and we are at 10,000 plus. This is the largest deployment outside China and in the world,” Vora said.
Vodafone Idea has deployed more than 5000 massive MIMO, small cells and TDD sites across Church gate, Prabhadevi, Pali hill, Lokhandwala, Versova, Andheri, Jogeshwari, Bandra and Dadar among other regions. The telco has also installed over 1900 indoor coverage solutions for high rises and commercial places.
“With meticulous pre-merger planning and rigorous post-merger execution, we have ensured that our customers remain confidently connected and enjoy uninterrupted services even as we integrate and optimize our network in a phased manner across circles,” said Vishant Vora, CTO, Vodafone Idea.
Huawei is also providing 4G equipment and massive MIMO technology to Vodafone Idea in seven circles. Huawei didn’t provide additional information.
The MIMO technology achieves four times capacity with same spectrum, allowing a telecom operator to build a 5G-ready transport network without investment in additional spectrum . MIMO deployment also allows telcos to address the capacity-related network issues in urban areas in India, besides deploying new sites to provide coverage in rural parts.
Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio has also started to deploy massive MIMO technology in some of the metro cities that are seeing huge traffic growth resulting in bad data speed experience.
UBS analysts say that India’s top three telecom operators will have to spend a little over $30 billion on 5G base stations and fiber infrastructure. According to UBS, the need for a dense site footprint and fiber backhaul for 5G access networks will likely shift the balance of power towards larger and integrated operators with strong balance sheets.
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea would need $10 billion capex each over the next five years.
“Bharti has solidly defended its market share and has narrowed the gap with Jio on 4G network reach, with improving 4G net adds. The company recently revamped its digital offering and launched converged digital proposition ‘Airtel Xstream’ offering digital content across TV, PC and mobile devices along with IoT solutions for connected homes. Further, Jio’s recently announced fixed broadband plans starting at Rs 699 are not as aggressive as we (and the market) feared and, therefore, do not pose significant pricing pressure on Bharti’s broadband average revenue per user,” UBS said in a research note to clients.
Reliance Jio’s incremental 5G capex is estimated somewhat lower at around $8 billion. That’s because Jio already has more 5G-ready fiberised towers than the incumbents, having already spent around $2 billion on tower fiberization.
Analysts were skeptical about Vodafone Idea’s ability to sustain such big-ticket capex spends given its continuing market share losses and weak financials, which they said could limit its 5G deployment ambitions.
They also said the need for a dense site footprint and fibre backhaul in 5G would shift the balance of power towards larger and integrated operators with strong balance sheets like Jio and Airtel, while those with high gearing levels are at risk given the sustained high capex needs.
“Airtel and Vodafone Idea will each need to spend $2 billion annually on 5G radio and fiber capex spread across 5 years,” UBS said in a report, implying 65% and 85% of Airtel’s and Vodafone Idea’s current annual India capex run rates respectively.
By contrast, Jio’s 5G capex, “would be lower due to its larger tower footprint and higher proportion of towers on fibre backhaul compared with Airtel and Vodafone Idea.” The brokerage firm also expects Jio to transition to 5G in a “time-efficient manner,” given its in-house data centres and investments in a content distribution network (CDN).
“Vodafone Idea’s stretched balance sheet will limit its participation in the 5G opportunity, and the company will require a significant improvement in network quality to arrest market share loss and revert to revenue growth,” UBS said.
Credit Suisse backed the view, saying, “Vodafone Idea will lose the most market share, and will need additional equity capital by FY2021, given our expectation of no price increase”.
UBS estimates that Airtel’s India mobile revenue will grow 5-6% in this financial year and the next even if interconnect usage charges – a source of revenue for incumbents – get scrapped from January 2020.
According to analysts, the India telecom sector can reduce overall estimated $30.5 billion 5G capex spends by 15-20% if Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio share towers and fiber resources. However, there is currently no progress on that front.
“We estimate the sector can reduce overall capex by 15-20 per cent if the three Indian telcos share towers and fiber (either commercially or driven by the regulator) – third-party tenancy poses upside risks to our estimates,” UBS said in its report.
India’s Department of Telecommunications wants to hold a 5G spectrum sale by January 2020 at the latest, according to referenced sources.
Credit Suisse doesn’t expect that 5G spectrum sale to attract much interest. That’s due to a mix of “high reserve prices, telcos’ focus on monetising 4G investments, stretched balance sheets, a nascent 5G ecosystem and lack of significant 5G use cases for mass consumption.”
Rajiv Sharma, co-head of research at SBICap Securities, said that Vodafone Idea is unlikely to bid for 5G spectrum at current base prices “as the telco doesn’t have an existing pan-India 4G network that is essential for any telco planning to spend top dollars on 5G,” according to the report.
Analysts believe that Reliance Jio will probably take part in the process, as it is the only profit-making telco in the Indian market.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had recently asked the Trai to lower the starting prices, which the regulator refused. “There was a chance for the Trai to reduce 5G prices. Let’s see what the DoT does now. But at current rates, Airtel won’t buy,” Airtel’s executive reportedly said.
Vodafone Idea CEO Balesh Sharma has previously said that the prices recommended by the regulator were ‘exorbitant.’ The telco said it will participate in the next auction but did not confirm if it would buy 5G spectrum.
Hemant Joshi, partner at Deloitte India, said it would be “prudent to defer the 5G auction till 2020 at least since at Trai’s recommended base prices, the industry response may be very lukewarm.” He also said that the reserve prices need to be lowered, taking into account the experiences in countries where 5G spectrum was recently auctioned.
Analysts said there are three things that India’s Centre for Telecom Excellence (within the DoT) must do immediately to hasten the adoption of 5G:
First, lay down a clear roadmap of spectrum availability and specify frequency bands aligned with global standards (IMT 2020 from ITU-R). Given that 5G services will be supporting massive data applications, operators will need adequate spectrum.
Editor’s Note: India’s TSDSI has proposed a candidate IMT 2020 RIT based on Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC), but it hasn’t yet been accepted by ITU-R WP 5D. TSDSI posted a revised and more comprehensive proposal on 10 September 2019, which will be evaluated at the next ITU-R WP 5D meeting in December.
Second, there is a need to move away from the existing mechanism of pricing spectrum on a per MHz basis. 5G services require at least 80-100 Mhz of contiguous spectrum per operator. If the Centre were to fix the floor price based on the per Mhz price realised in the last auction then no operator would be able to afford buying 5G spectrum. The pricing, therefore, will have to be worked out anew, keeping in mind the financial stress in the telecom sector and affordability of services.
Finally, the Centre must rapidly complete the national fiber optic network rollout as 5G high speed services will require huge back-haul support for which existing microwave platforms will not be sufficient.