Regardless of whether the Indian telecom market remains as it is today with three players or becomes a duopoly, Bharti Airtel will be the biggest beneficiary of Vi’s troubles.
The Indian telecom sector has undergone massive upheaval and consolidation since Reliance Jio debuted in 2016. Jio, Airtel and Vodafone-Idea are the only three private telecom companies with active operations in India, accounting for 91% of the total subscriber base.
In the past two years, Jio and Airtel have consolidated their market share and expanded their market share, while Vodafone Idea struggles to retain subscribers and cut losses. In just two years, Vodafone Idea’s market share fell from 24% in March 2021 to just 20.7%.
A 50% YoY increase in Q4 net profit helped Airtel shore up its bottom line with good subscriber quality, increased consumption, and lower churn.
Bharti Airtel’s Gopal Vittal said in a post-earnings call with analysts that churn has decreased and consumption has increased.
In FY22 and FY23, Vodafone Idea lost nearly 1.96 million subscribers per month, Airtel added 0.8 million subscribers per month, and Jio added 0.3 million subscribers per month.
In FY22 and FY23, there were net subscriber additions
As a result of the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in August 2018, Vodafone Idea had 440 million subscribers, underlining its steep fall. In March 2023, its subscriber base has decreased by 203 million to 237 million.
In spite of what happens to Vodafone Idea, analysts at Macquarie Research say Airtel’s future looks bright, ahead of Reliance Jio’s.
Even if Vodafone Idea survives, Airtel will be the biggest winner
Macquarie Research analysts estimate that Airtel’s subscriber base, average revenue per user (ARPU) and return on investment (ROIC) will end up being the biggest winner instead of market leader Reliance Jio with Vodafone Idea’s troubles not showing any signs of receding anytime soon.
A company’s return on invested capital, or ROIC, measures how efficiently it allocates assets to profitable ventures. The higher the ROIC, the better.
As a result of Jio’s already optimized cost structure and sticky depreciation & amortization charges, Bharti Airtel has much higher incremental operating leverage than Jio, according to Macquarie in its report, explaining why Airtel is expected to be the biggest winner regardless of what happens to the Vodafone idea.
A capital infusion and an increase in ARPU will cover the telco’s liabilities over the next 10-15 years in the first scenario.
As a result, Airtel’s incremental operating leverage puts it in a better position than Jio in this scenario, even though Jio is not expected to gain much subscribers. As a result, its ROIC is expected to rise from existing 6% to 10-14% by FY27, while Jio’s ROIC is expected to rise from 7% to 7-10% by FY27.
Slow and steady wins the race
Analysts predict that Vi will lose subscribers and its market share will fall to just 15% by FY30 if things don’t change and the company is unable to raise funds and invest in its network.
Reliance Jio could reach 500 million subscribers, followed by Airtel at 365 million and Vodafone Idea at 200 million.
The ARPU for Airtel is expected to rise to $250 by FY27, while Jio’s ARPU is expected to remain at 235 by FY27.
According to analysts, Airtel’s ROIC is expected to rise to 10-13%, while Jio’s is expected to rise to 7-10%.
In case Vodafone Idea winds down its operations, Jio and Airtel could gain subscribers and ROIC.
By FY27, Jio’s subscriber base could reach 585 million, while Airtel’s could reach 455 million.
Vodafone Idea’s exit could lead to even better ROICs for both Airtel and Jio, with Macquarie estimating Airtel’s ROIC to be in the range of 10-16%, while Jio is expected to remain in second place with a ROIC of 8-12%.