KOLKATA: Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular will endure more financial pain through FY19 with Reliance Jio Infocomm unlikely to slacken its pricing aggression in its bid to maximise customer acquisitions and close the gap with its rivals, analysts said.
The price wars, they said, would continue as Jio is focussed on retaining and increasing its almost 187 million-strong subscriber base.
“The price war will continue as (parent) Reliance Industries (RIL) is very firm about the strategy going forward on (telecom arm) Jio, which continues to be focused on customer acquisition and is open to further tariff cuts based on actions of incumbents,” BNP Paribas said in a note to clients seen by ET.
Analysts at JP Morgan backed the view, saying, “Jio clearly wants to offer the most competitive tariffs and gain a higher subscriber share, and its core business cash flows are strong enough to support this strategy, especially as core project spending drops.”
Jio’s future pricing strategy, according to the brokerage, could induce its financially stressed rivals to increase tariffs even though this could “effectively lead to a loss of market share.”
What could be particularly worrisome for the telcos is that Jio believes “it can be profitable in the current tariff environment” and continue to invest, JP Morgan said.
Last week, Jio Infocomm outclassed listed operators Airtel and Idea, reporting a 1.2% sequential growth in net profit to Rs 510 crore in the fourth quarter of 2017-18 with higher average revenue per user and voice and data usage.
Bharti Airtel shares rose 0.15% to Rs 409.55 at the close on the BSE on Monday, while Idea’s shares gained 0.36% after reporting a lower-than-expected Rs 930.6 crore net loss in the March quarter, helped by a reduction in costs and higher other income. The Reliance scrip fell 3.2% closing at Rs 963.10.
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said the telecom industry is “unlikely to witness any tariff hike for the next 3-to-6 months at least” as it expects both “Jio and Bharti to focus on poaching customers” of the emerging Idea-Vodafone combined entity, which is widely expected to shed some revenue market share, post-merger.
“Jio intends to keep its tariffs at a discount to peers, and we don’t see the company in a rush to raise ARPU as its primary focus remains on subscriber additions,” the US brokerage said in a note after Jio’s earnings call.
For the country’s older telcos, Jio’s entry in September 2016 with its disruptive tariffs compelled them to respond, putting further pressure on their revenue and profit. This competition triggered consolidation in the sector.
Brokerage Nomura International expects the pace of Jio’s subscriber additions to remain robust, given that “nearly three of every four new incremental 4G LTE phone buyers opt for Jio’s service and the pace of JioPhone additions remains strong too.”
Analysts said Jio has indicated it will step up its activities around the fibre broadband and enterprise business fronts, with phased commercial rollouts likely soon.
“Jio believes in the currently underserviced enterprise market, it could outplay rivals, given its strong data network,” BankAm-Merrill Lynch said.
With Jio users spending close to an hour a day on average on their phones, the 4G telco sees an emerging “ad monetisation opportunity,” the US brokerage added.
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