Data tariff structures are likely to be disrupted following the launch of services by Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJio), while data volumes and subscriber growth will accelerate, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra).
The agency expects the launch of RJio, which has a data-centric strategy, to intensify competition which will squeeze the market share, EBITDA margins and credit metrics of incumbents. Large telecom companies (Bharti Airtel Limited, Vodafone India Limited and Idea Cellular Limited) have already undertaken pre-emptive price cuts by offering higher data volumes for the same price to retain customers.
Ind-Ra believes that the launch of RJio will accelerate 4G adoption in India, backed by its attractive tariffs, low-cost handset pricing and perceived superior quality of services driven by its huge investment in network. RJio, which is officially launching services from 5 September 2016, will offer data services free for four months, after which it will offer 10 tariff plans, starting at Rs 19 a day for occasional users, Rs 149 a month for low data users and Rs 4,999 a month for heavy data users.
Prima-facie, RJio’s pricing is not just highly competitive, but also challenges the prevalent tariff structures as RJio will offer free voice calling and SMS services bundled with the data tariff. This could hurt the voice tariffs and average revenue per user (ARPU) of existing operators as well as push them to match the pricing, in a bid to protect their market share.
RJio may look to disrupt some of the prominent geographies of existing operators, leading to a redistribution of the market share which is concentrated among the top three operators. The incumbents’ debt profile will deteriorate in FY17 as the agency expects them to incur high capex on network expansion and acquisition of additional spectrum to compete with RJio.
Ind-Ra had highlighted in the report ‘RJio to Up the Ante for Telecom Operators in FY17’ that data revenues will remain stagnant on a 30-40 per cent decline in data realisations/megabyte (MB) in FY17 driven by RJio’s launch, while support from data consumption growth to data ARPU will be gradual.
Ind-Ra expects RJio to not just contend for market share out of the existing pie of subscribers which are being serviced by incumbent operators, but also lead to acceleration in data subscriber growth. RJio has incurred aggregate pre-launch capex of around Rs 1.5 trillion, signifying the magnitude of its potential reach and capabilities.
Ind-Ra highlighted in the report ‘Market Wire: Telcos to Exercise Selective Bidding; Spectrum Acquisition Strategy to Revolve Around 4G’ that the top telcos already have moderate-to-high leverage levels, which will weigh on their ability to reduce rates at a time when they are expected to invest in the spectrum auctions later in October 2016. Idea reported a higher net debt/EBITDA ratio in FY16 at 3.25x (FY15: 1.31x), which is the peak financial leverage of the last five years. Bharti’s financial leverage stood at 2.4x in FY16, which is expected to go up in FY17 with the increase in capex and margin moderation due to the intensifying competition in the data segment. Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom) on the other hand is highly leveraged (net debt/EBITDA: 5.6x in FY16).
Bharti has the largest spectrum holding at present, of the total 770 MHz, across bands (900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz and 2,300 MHz); followed by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJio), which holds 596 MHz spectrum across 800 MHz, 1,800 MHz, and 2,300 MHz bands and then followed by Vodafone (302 MHz) and Idea (271 MHz).