However, COVID-19 has given the industry a boost, changing the market dynamics and due to the increased interests of global investors. In his report, The New Normal for Telecom Providers in Southeast Asia, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Shamir Amanullah talks about how the telecom sector has fast evolved as the backbone of business and social interactions as the adoption of applications such as video conferencing and collaborative tools surge. Streaming services such as Netflix have become the go-to source for entertainment, putting the telecom sector in the spotlight today.
India’s monthly active internet user base is estimated to touch 639 million by the end of December, thanks to the COVID-19-induced measures that have forced people to stay indoors. Currently estimated at 574 million, the number of monthly active internet users has grown 24% over that of 2019, indicating an overall penetration of 41% last year. Further, It is estimated that India will have more than 907 million internet users by 2023, accounting for nearly 64% of the population. There are also around 71 million children aged 5-11 years, who go online using devices of family members exhibiting high future digital adoption in the Gen Z.
India’s rural areas are driving the country’s digital revolution, with a 45% growth in internet penetration in 2019 as compared to 11% in urban India. Rural India has an estimated 264 million internet users and is expected to reach 304 million in 2020. Local language content and video drive the internet boom in rural India, with a 250% rise in penetration in the last four years. Mobile is the device of choice for 100% of active users to browse the internet.
Global Interest in the Indian Market
Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm) has raised an estimate of USD 20.2 billion in the past four months from 13 investors by selling about 33% stake in the firm. To put this into context, India’s entire start-up ecosystem raised USD 14.5 billion last year! Besides Google and Facebook, the list of investors includes Qualcomm Investment Ventures, Intel Capital, KKR, TPG, General Atlantic, Silver Lake, L Catterton, Vista Equity Partners, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Google’s new investment gives Jio Platforms an equity valuation of USD 58 billion. The investment today from Google is one of the rare instances when it has joined its global rival Facebook in backing a firm. Google and Reliance Jio Platforms will work on a customised version of the Android operating system to develop low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, according to Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries. These phones will support Google Play and future wireless standard 5G, he said.
Jio is increasing its focus on the development of areas such as digital services, education, healthcare and entertainment that can support economic growth and social inclusion at a critical time for the economy. At the Reliance Annual General meet, it was announced that Jio has developed a complete 5G solution from scratch that will enable us the launch of a world-class 5G service in India. Jio also revealed that the company is developing Jio TV Plus, Jio Glass, and more.
With an estimated 387 million subscribers as on 31st March 2020 making them the largest in the country, Jio Platforms provides telecom, broadband, and digital content services. Leveraging advanced technologies like Big Data Analytics, AI, IoT, Augmented and Mixed Reality, and Blockchain, this platform is focused on providing affordable internet connectivity with the content to match.
Bharti Telecom, the promoter of Bharti Airtel, has sold a 2.75% stake in the telecom operator for an estimated USD 1.15 billion in May 2020 to a healthy mix of investors – long-only and hedge fund – across Asia, Europe and the US. The promoter entity will use the proceeds of the stake sale to pare debt and become a “debt-free company”.
It was reported that Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth USD 2 billion in Bharti Airtel. This translates to a 5% stake based on the current market valuation of the telecom operator. There have also been conversations about the possibility of an agreement on a commercial transaction where Airtel would offer Amazon’s products at cheaper rates. However, Bharti Airtel has clarified that it works with digital and OTT platforms from time-to-time but has no other activity to report.
Airtel has also shared plans to integrate technology and telecom to build a digital platform to take on Jio’s ambitions of evolving into a tech and consumer company. To scale up its digital platforms business, Airtel has been betting on four pillars: data, distribution, payments, and network.
Vodafone has an estimated 319 million subscribers as on 31st March 2020 making them the 3rd largest telecom provider in the country. There was unvalidated news that Google had shown interest in Vodafone but that does not seem relevant now given their investment in Jio.
The AGR case remains a significant factor for the telecom sector, particularly for Vodafone given their precarious financial position.
However, in recent times, their ARPU is expected to increase by over 40% from USD 1.23 to USD 1.88, through increased pricing. The stock market is responding positively to Vodafone with the stock almost doubling in the last 1 month
Get to know the key trends in the telecom services market in Southeast Asia
For more information on Ecosystm’s “The New Normal for Telecom Providers in South East Asia”, report please contact us at email@example.com
Making its largest foray into the Indian market yet, last week Facebook announced that it is investing US$5.7 billion in Jio Platforms – India’s largest telecom operator – for a 9.9% minority stake. Facebook makes its intentions very clear and is targeting the 60 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who can be the backbone of India’s growing digital economy. This includes a rather unorganised retail sector, which has had to adopt digital at breakneck speed following the Government’s earlier financial reforms, which impacted the smaller retailers, dependent primarily on cash transactions. Facebook is by no means the only global giant with an interest in India’s retail business – with Amazon and Walmart leading the way.
The JioMart and WhatsApp Pilot
Just days after the announcement, JioMart – an eCommerce venture also a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, like Jio Platforms – has launched a pilot in Mumbai which allows users to order groceries through WhatsApp. Customers can now place grocery orders through WhatsApp Business with JioMart reaching out to small-scale retailers and brick and mortar stores – or “Kirana stores” as they are referred to in India – to fulfil the order. More than 1,200 local stores have been engaged for this pilot. It currently does not include a digital payment option and invoices and alerts are sent through WhatsApp. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, says that the JioMart and WhatsApp collaboration has the potential to make it possible for around 30 million neighbourhood stores to transact digitally.
India Emerging as the New Battlefield
India is an important eCommerce market for global giants such as Facebook and Amazon, who have struggled with establishing a presence in China. Walmart has also set it its sights on India, with its recent acquisition of Flipkart. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says. “India represents the final frontier, where the battle lines are being drawn, and the three are heading towards a collision path. Facebook’s recent move has just upped the game for Amazon and Walmart, as well as for the eCommerce and Fintech start-ups who have been eyeing this market.”
Amazon has been the early mover, establishing its eCommerce presence in India way back in 2013. Ghatak says, “From its initial marketplace approach of curating suppliers to start selling on its platform, Amazon graduated to offering its own delivery and fulfilment services, by establishing dozens of warehouses across India. This was to ensure the quality and timeliness of deliveries, upholding its ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ (FBA) brand promise. There was a considerable cost though, in terms of time to ramp up and investments – with the associated asset risks. Also, reaching out to the diffused retail sector, with their non-existent or very low level of digitalisation, has been difficult for all the major eCommerce players such as Amazon and Flipkart. Jeff Bezos’ announcement of an additional investment of $ 1 billion, earlier this year, to digitise SMEs, allowing them to sell and operate online, is a step to extend its reach into this diffused retail market.”
JioMart’s model, according to Ghatak is in stark contrast to Amazon’s. “JioMart’s currently ongoing pilot in Mumbai is a classic B2C marketplace model, with little or no asset risk. The orders placed by the customers are routed to the nearest Kirana store based on stock availability, with the customers going to pick up the ordered items themselves at times.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee says, “Jio has unparalleled market access in India with reports showing north of 370 million subscribers. Even at a $1.7 per month revenue from such a huge number, one can get to a $7.5 billion-dollar annual business. But even this is dwarfed by what that subscriber base itself is worth – through the data it provides, the products that can be sold and so on. Similarly, WhatsApp will prove to be more important than Facebook in India, with more than 400 million users. Using WhatsApp to get Kirana stores to do delivery can be a true game-changer.”
Talking about how this competes with Amazon, Mukherjee says, “This can eat into the business of an Amazon and my guess is, it will be far more efficient. The proximity to the customer will allow multiple deliveries per day at short notice, and fresh produce guarantees – maybe even door returns if not satisfied – that would be hard to match. Given the traffic situation in large Indian cities, delivery logistics from a more distant source will always struggle to compete. This is one tip of a multi-pronged spear – there are obviously other products that can be contemplated, leading to additional revenues.”
The Possibilities Ahead
Mukherjee explains why he thinks Facebook invested in Jio Platforms, rather than just forging a collaboration model. “Clearly both parties want to tie the other down and make sure that this alliance is long term. And this possibly means revenue will be shared instead of the usual commission model. Also, the go-to-market implications can run to more than just the Indian market. WeChat Pay is huge in China but not really elsewhere. If this works, there could be a potential “WhatsApp Pay” in the rest of the world. For Jio who already dominates the telecom landscape in India, this deal is a step towards taking their earnings to a new level, above the top end of the telecom category – they can access profit pools available to hardly any telecom provider worldwide.”
At a time when a market entry for foreign players in India is getting tougher with increasing regulatory pressures, a tie-up with the biggest player in India is indeed a very promising step – for both Facebook and Reliance. “For Facebook, this is a great opportunity to take its dependence away from a primarily ad-driven revenue model. The digitalisation of the diffused retail sector in India will open up new revenue opportunities from its WhatsApp Business App, WhatsApp Business API, and WhatsApp Pay-UPI gateway (pending regulatory approval). There is a potential of revenues from a variety of marketing services, membership fees, customer management services, product sales, commissions on transactions, and software service fees,” says Ghatak.
Talking about the potential for Reliance Industries, Ghatak says, “The technology horsepower of Facebook will help propel them ahead of Fintech and eCommerce companies in India – challenging already established players such as Amazon and Flipkart, and the newbie start-ups. Ability to drive transactions and digital payments in the diffused retail sector will open up huge revenue opportunities that were largely untapped until now, with low asset risks. Also, this sector has traditionally operated on a cash-based model and the recent COVID-19 crisis has exposed how vulnerable the sector is with a limited view of the supply chain, and limited funding for working capital. Developing relationships with the millions of Kirana stores spread across India also gives the opportunity of revenue generation through supply chain financing – a largely ignored sub-sector until now.”
Mukherjee thinks that this alliance will challenge players such as Amazon and Amazon Pay, Google Pay and PayTM. Ghatak also thinks that eventually, Jio Platform will have to either choose between or integrate the best features of WhatsApp Pay and the Jio Money Merchant payment gateways.
However, Ghatak offers a word of caution on the downside risks as well. “Partnering with Facebook is a hugely ambitious game plan for Reliance Industries. The success of its plans will also depend on how well it is able to curate the suppliers who are responsible for the actual delivery. In a consumer-driven business model, trust and customer experience cannot be compromised. The low asset, high leverage and high reach model can unravel itself if the customer gets the short end of the stick, in this rush for eCommerce domination.”