Indian booming telecom market: next destination for Global players

India's mobile phone market is red-hot, adding nearly seven million customers a month, latest figures showed. It is also stirring global interest in the auction of the country's fourth-largest wireless operator.
Already, four players -- including Vodafone, the world's top mobile phone company -- are jostling for a position in the multi-billion dollar race for India's Hutchison Essar, controlled by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa.
The Indian mobile market has "great potential," Britain's Vodafone said.
India added 6.8 million new mobile subscribers in November, the latest month for which figures are available.
"India's mobile subscriber base is increasing phenomenally every year -- one customer is added every second," Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran said.
India now has more than 183 million telephone subscribers, of which over 140 million are mobile customers.
"By 2010, India will have more than 500 million mobile subscribers from the current base," Maran told a conference of top telecommunications executives in New Delhi last month.
"India's mobile subscriber base is increasing phenomenally every year -- one customer is added every second ... By 2010, India will have more than 500 mobile subscribers from the current base."
Dayanidhi Maran, Indian communications ministerThe contest for Hutchison-Essar got going in earnest last month, when Hutchison Whampoa, controlled by Hong Kong's billionaire tycoon Lee Ka-shing (李嘉誠), made it clear it wanted to sell out its 67 percent stake in the Indian mobile company, which has 22 million subscribers.
As new bidders jump into the fray, the valuations for Hutchison-Essar have zoomed to over US$20 billion.
However, this hasn't deterred the potential suitors, which include a clutch of Indian companies such as Reliance Communications, India's second-largest mobile phone company, and the Hinduja group, with interests from oil to banking.
Indian steel-to-shipping group Essar, which holds the minority 33 percent stake in the company, is another possible bidder, while other companies such as Maxis Communications of Malaysia and Egypt's Orascom have also been mentioned.
India has come a long way from just a decade ago, when teledensity -- the number of phones per 100 people -- was around three in the country of 1.1 billion people.
By November 2005, teledensity had risen to 11 and that climbed by November last year to 16, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said.
"There has been a steep growth in teledensity in the past 12 months," the telecom body commented.
India is now the world's fastest growing major mobile market, outpacing even China, analysts said.
A no-holds-barred price war is helping drive the cost of calls down to as low as two cents a minute, and a mobile connection can cost as little as US$4 a month.
Nevertheless, profitability of the sector is strong.
Second-quarter net profit of Bharti Tele-Ventures, India's largest mobile phone company by subscribers, rocketed 79 percent to 9.34 billion rupees (US$207 million) from the same period a year earlier.
The company's profits jumped due to nearly a doubling in its number of subscribers.
Short-term, the Indian government wants mobile subscribers to grow from 140 million now to 180 million by the close of this year.
Global phone companies and handset and telecoms equipment makers are looking intently at India because teledensity in China has already hit 29 per 100. They reckon that India will follow the same path.
Right now the mobile revolution in India is mainly confined to the cities, where not only the upper and middle classes have phones but also delivery men, rickshaw drivers and domestic servants.
Mobile phones have been "an agent of change in India," said T. V. Ramachandran, director general of the Cellular Operators' Association.
Last month, the world's second-largest mobile phone maker, Motorola, launched its "Made in India" handset, with design and software done in India, which it billed as the "common man's mobile" with a price tag of 1,700 rupees.
Maran lauded the Motorola initiative, but said companies should be looking at introducing a phone priced at less than 1,000 rupees.
"That will be the right phone for the mass market in India," Maran says.
It's all a vast change from the early 1990s, when India had only five million phone connections and making a call was a tortuous experience.
Home owners had five-year waits or longer for installation of a phone.
Public phones were either non-existent or broken. Offices never had enough switchboard lines so phone calls had to be booked and the phone network often collapsed under the load of calls.
The situation began to change when the government revamped its telephone policy in the late 1990s.
But now the real prize for telephone companies lies in in the vast rural market where nearly 70 percent of the population lives.
Telephone penetration in India was 25 per 100 people in urban areas and as low as 1.6 per 100 in rural areas, Maran said.
"The rural market is going to be the accelerator for growth in the telecommunications sector," he said.

Source: Taipei Times

TRAI order to benefit roamers

All rentals scrapped; cellular operators say annual loss will be Rs 900 cr

Despite strong opposition from telecom operators, mobile users will have to pay lower roaming tariffs starting February 15 with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ordering up to 56 per cent reduction in domestic mobile roaming charges.
TRAIhas also scrapped all forms of rental, surcharge and other additional charges being taken by the mobile operators at present for offering roaming services. The telecom regulator has also asked operators not to charge for incoming SMS while roaming.
While the move will benefit about 15 million mobile users who use roaming services, cellular operators, however, said that the TRAI move was "distressing" and suggested that operators may be forced to increase local tariffs to balance out the impact on their revenues.
Mr T.V. Ramachandran, Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said the adverse financial impact on the industry was expected to be to the tune of Rs 800-900 crore annually. "The decline in roaming tariffs would most likely necessitate an increase in local call tariffs as roaming tariffs were hitherto being priced at a level which allowed the operators to offer affordable services to their consumers," said Mr Ramachandran.
Mr Manoj Kohli, President, Bharti Airtel, said that the decision was "unnecessary and unwarranted." Bharti's share price dropped by Rs 2.25 to touch Rs 686.90 on the BSE on Wednesday.
Reliance Communication and State-owned BSNL, however, said that there would be negligible impact on them since their tariffs were already at a lower level. R-Com's share price dropped by Rs 6.15 to close at Rs 434.
TRAI refuted claims of revenue loss by operators and said that reduction in tariffs would lead to substantial increase in usage for roaming service, resulting in overall revenue growth for the service providers. TRAI also said that the cost of providing services have been brought down significantly over the last five years. However, there has been no effect on national roaming tariffs.

One billion phones shipped during 2006

Mobile phone vendors shipped more than a billion handsets over the course of 2006, largely driven by strong sales during the holiday season. Total unit shipments for the year reached 1.02 billion, up 22.5% from the 833 million units sold in 2005. Emerging markets such as China, India, and Latin America, accounted for more than half of the year’s cell phone shipments.
“Mobile phones are seen as both a practical necessity and a status symbol in many emerging markets,” explained IDC industry analyst, Ramon Llamas in a statement.
In terms of market share, Nokia and Motorola managed to consolidate their positions of global leadership, but met with declining profit margins due to the rising popularity of low-cost, entry-level cell phones.

Verizon's fourth quarter profit declines

America’s second largest telephone provider, Verizon Communications, announced a 38% decline in fourth-quarter profit , but delivered encouraging news about the ongoing roll-out of its FiOS television network.
CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, says that the telecom giant is investing the bulk of its impressive wireless profits into building a faster broadband and TV network. The new fiber optic network is intended to compete with cable companies, such as Comcast.
“You have to believe that the money that they’re spending is working,'’ commented Philadelphia Trust Co. investment manager, Richard Sichel, who invests heavily in Verizon shares. “It looks as though it is.”
The New York-based telephone operator’s net profits came in at $1.03 billion, or $0.35/share, for the final quarter of 2006, compared to $1.66 billion ($0.59/share) during the same period a year previous. Total revenue for the quarter increased by 26% to $22.6 billion, roughly in line with the expectations of analysts.

Sony Ericsson to make cheap handsets in India

Mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson would have low-cost color screen and music playing handsets made in India through manufacturing agreements with Flextronics and Foxconn.
Production in the fast growing Indian mobile phone market will reach 10 million mobile phones by 2009, the five-year-old joint venture between Japanese electronics maker Sony Corp and Swedish telecoms equipment firm Ericsson said in a statement.
Production of 10 million phones would represent around 13 percent of all Sony Ericsson phones sold in 2006.
"In addition to competitive pricing, these phones will offer customized features for the Indian market, such as local content and customized keypads," Sony Ericsson said in a statement.
The world's fourth biggest mobile phone maker, measured in units, has made its mark with premium phones including Cybershot digital cameras and Walkman music players.
Analysts have said it now needs to bring out more low-cost phones, catering to lower income customers in the fast growing emerging markets, to reach its target of becoming the world's number three mobile phone maker.
"Local manufacturing in India will result in improved cost efficiencies and enable us to offer attractive products at even more competitive price points," the company's president, Miles Flint, said.
Sony Ericsson had a fourth-quarter global market share of 8.7 percent, behind Nokia's 35.2 percent, Motorola's 21.9 percent and Samsung's 10.7 percent.
Measured in revenues, Sony Ericsson overtook Samsung in the fourth quarter as the number three phone maker, as a result of its more expensive phones.

Nokia - surging profits

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturer, shrugged off tough market conditions to unveil forecast-beating results.
Net profit at the Finnish handset group rose 19 per cent in the fourth quarter to €1.27 billion (£835 million) or €0.32 a share.
Sales were up 13 per cent on the same time last year to €11.7 billion.
Analysts had expected earnings of 28 cents a share on sales of €11.52 billion.
Though the average selling price of the phones fell, analysts dismissed this to send the group’s shares up 7 per cent to €16.57 in Helsinki after the announcement.
Like its peers Nokia, which is far ahead of its nearest rival, Motorola, with more than 35 per cent of the mobile market, is facing fierce pricing pressure.
Mobile operators, particularly in Western markets where mobile penetration is more than 100 per cent, are demanding ever cheaper handsets.
Tie-ups between mobile operators, giving them increased buying power, have further increased the pressure on the handset vendors.
In an attempt to offset these pressures, companies such as Nokia are increasingly turning to emerging markets.
However, though the sales potential is huge, the average selling price of phones is far lower than in more mature markets.
Last week Motorola announced plans to lay off 3,500 workers after seeing its profits savaged.
Some analysts had feared that Nokia might also have been hit by the tough conditions.
Ben Wood, of CCS Insight, the telecoms consultancy, said: "To grow margins and volumes like this in such a tough market is very impressive."
Nokia shipped 105.5 million phones in the quarter, compared with 83.7 million units a year earlier.
In an effort to grab more market share the Finnish group is working on a reinvigorated product range.
Analysts expect the group to unveil a flurry of sleeker, thinner devices at 3GSM, the industry’s annual get-together, next month.

Alcatel-Lucent not expecting to make profit in Q4

Shares in Alcatel-Lucent fell as much as 12 per cent after the world's biggest maker of telecommunications equipment said that it does not expect to make a profit in the fourth quarter. The company said that revenues had slipped in its first financial update since its $11.6 billion merger.
Pro-forma sales are expected to fall 16 per cent to €4.42 billion (£2.9 billion) in the quarter, from €5.25 billion a year earlier. The company expects to break even during the period, compared with operating profit of €570 million a year earlier.
Alcatel-Lucent, which also flagged restructuring charges of about €800 million, will report full earnings figures on February 9.
Alcatel SA and Lucent Technologies merged last year in an attempt to fend off competition from rivals such as China's Huawei and Sweden's Ericsson. However, the newly created company has since faced lower spending in the US and increased competition in wireless technology suppliers.
In mid-afternoon deals in Paris, shares in Alcatel were down €1.10, or 10 per cent, at €9.85.

Double trouble for Motorola

Motorola, the world's second-largest mobile phone handset maker, would cut 3,500 jobs, about 5 per cent of its workforce, in an effort to bolster plunging margins amid a bruising price war.
Ed Zander, the group's president and chief executive, said that the move would save the company about $400 million (£203 million) over two years. He did not immediately elaborate on where the cuts would be made.
The announcement came after Motorola reported that fourth-quarter profits fell 48 per cent despite of record sales. The slump came after the group offered customers a series of deep discounts in an effort to win market share from market leader Nokia.
In Motorola's handset business, the operating margin plunged to 4.4 per cent in the fourth quarter, from 11.6 per cent in the previous three months. The group shipped 66 million handsets in the quarter, up 47 per cent on the same period a year earlier, to give the group 23 per cent of the global market.
Mr Zander said: "As I said earlier this month, we are disappointed with our fourth quarter operating earnings performance."
The US company had issued a profits warning two weeks ago, sending its shares sharply lower. However, Mr Zander shrugged off suggestions that Motorola should concentrate on delivering profits at the expense of market share.
He said: "There’s no change in strategy. There may be some changes in tactics."
He also dismissed suggestions that Motorola's super-thin Razr phone is running out of momentum. "It’s funny, I keep reading about Razrs being tired," he told analysts. "We sold more Razrs in quarter four than in any quarter we ever had. We now have sold over 75 million Razrs worldwide."
Net profit for the past three months of 2006 was $624 million, or 25 cents per share, down from $1.2 billion, or 46 cents per share, a year earlier.
Revenue was $11.8 billion, up 17 per cent from $10 billion a year ago and in line with analysts' estimates.
The company said it expects sales between $10.4 billion and $10.6 billion in the first quarter, again in line with analysts’ forecasts.
Motorola shares gained 31 cents to $19.02 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Erricsson plans investment of $500 million in India

Ericsson is planning a $500 million (£254 million) assault on the fast-growing Indian mobile phone market, it emerged today.
The Swedish telecoms giant said that it wanted to exploit the "phenomenal" growth in the sector - where a new customer is signing up for a handset every second of the day.
Mats Granryd, managing director of Ericsson India, said: "We will be investing $100 million annually for the next five years.
"The figure could up depending on the growth in the sector. This is growing phenomenally and I do not see an end to it."
The huge growth in India has already sparked a gold rush among leading mobile phone companies.
The market has doubled in the past year to 140 million customers - triple the amount of Indian debit or credit card holders - and is growing at a rate of 2.5 million subscribers a month.
Three months ago, Vodafone spent £840 million on a 10 per cent stake in Indian company Bharti Telecom.

Virgin targetting Indian Market

Virgin Mobile, Sir Richard Branson’s no-frills mobile brand, is preparing to enter India in a tie-up with the Tata conglomerate.
Ratan Tata, its chairman, is understood to be in talks with Virgin about the group becoming an exclusive franchisee of Tata Teleservices, Tata’s telecoms arm and India’s sixth-largest mobile operator.
The venture, which could be operating as soon as April, is expected to involve creating a business owned partly by Tata Teleservices.
The Branson talks mark the latest step in a race into India by Britain’s mobile operators, as they seek to cement their position in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile group by sales, is seeking a controlling stake in Hutchison Essar, another Indian mobile operator.
India is one of its largest untapped mobile phone markets. The country has a population of 1.1 billion but a mobile phone penetration rate of just 12 per cent, or 140 million subscribers.
Usage could triple in the next four years, some analysts believe. In the UK, where some users have more than one phone, the figure is more than 100 per cent.
Tata Teleservices, which operates under the Tata Indicom brand, has 8.6 million customers, or a 7 per cent share of the market.
It is thought that it regarded a tie-up with Virgin as a way of attracting more younger users.
Virgin Mobile, a “virtual operator” that does not have its own network, already operates in the United States through a joint venture with Sprint.
It is also in Australia and in France, through a tie-up with Carphone Warehouse, the high street chain founded by Charles Dunstone.
Plans for a flotation of Virgin Mobile USA were shelved in 2005 when it raised funds through the debt market.
In the UK the group, which has merged with NTL, the cable operator, uses the network of T-Mobile, the German-owned mobile business.
Vodafone has a 10 per cent holding in Bharti Tele-Ventures, India’s biggest mobile operator.
Indian players in the mobile market:
1 Bharti Tele-Ventures: 27.1 million subscribers, which eqautes to a 21.6 per cent market share
2 Reliance: 23.5 million/18.8 per cent market share
3 Hutchison India: 20.4 million/16.3 per cent market share
4 Tata Teleservices: 8.6 million/6.9 per cent market share

Handset market - Size of the mobile matters

It may be a matter of only 0.3mm, but to Nokia the distance is crucial.
At just 13.7mm across, the N76 - the new handset which the phone manufacturer launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas yesterday - will be one of the most slender handsets on the market.
It will also, importantly, be 0.3mm thinner than the RAZR, the hugely successful model sold by its rival Motorola.
"Thin is good" was the theme of the speech by Nokia chief executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo at the CES yesterday as he laid out the battleground for the next generation of handsets and sought to reassure investors that the company's sales would not suffer amid a difficult period for manufacturers.
Among the slimmer offerings with which Nokia hopes to take the fight to Motorola was the N93i - a new version of the N93, launched in 2005 - which will be 3mm thinner than its predecessor, as well as doubling as a digital video camera.
The company also announced plans to release a new "ultra-thin" phone, the Barracuda, later in the year, though declined to give measurements.
Nokia still makes one in three phones sold worldwide, thanks largely to high demand for its cheaper models in emerging markets, but has suffered from a lack of slimmer models in the wake of Motorola’s hugely popular RAZR flip-phone.
The launch of the RAZR in 2003 has in large part been responsible for Motorola’s market share climbing to an estimated 22 per cent.
It has been a difficult period for the handset manufacturing market, where strong price competition has forced down margins, analysts said.
Shares in Nokia fell by more than 4 per cent in Helsinki trading on Friday after Motorola gave warning that its fourth-quarter (Q4) revenues and profits would fall below expectations.
Both companies are due to release their Q4 results later this month.
"More than 850 million people have a Nokia mobile phone in their hands. No other consumer electronics company in the world has ever had such a customer base," Mr Kallasvuo said in a statement.
The company said it had sold 40 million multimedia phones, and that the market for such devices, which was 90 million in 2006, was expected to grow to 250 million units by 2008 - figures which reassured analysts.
"This news dispels suspicions that Nokia would have to follow Motorola and warn on the fourth quarter," Karri Rinta, an analyst at Handelbanken, said.

Indian telecom fever - rising temperature

Less than a decade ago it used to take several months to get a new fixed-line telephone connection in India. Mobile telephones, introduced to the country in 1994, were seen as futuristic devices available only to the wealthy elite.
But in november 2006 India overtook China as the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world when it registered a record five million new subscribers on GSM services in one month
India now has 140 million mobile phone users, compared with 10 million in 2003, making it the third biggest market behind China on 450 million and the United States on 220 million.
Dayanidhi Maran, India’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology, forecast this month that the country would have half a billion mobile subscribers by 2010.
Small wonder, then, that Indian and foreign investors are scrambling to jump aboard the telecoms revolution in the world’s second most populous country.
A dazzling array of handsets is now available on the Indian market, ranging from the Spice S400 at 1,799 rupees (£20) to the O2 Xda Atom at 35,000 rupees (£400).
With eight GSM operators and four on the competing CDMA technology, mobile telephony has become affordable not just for the burgeoning middle class but for a growing number of blue-collar workers.
Taxi drivers, teashop owners and domestic staff in major cities, many of whom still do not have a fixed-line telephone at home, are often to be seen with a cellular phone clamped to their ears.
Meanwhile, young middle class subscribers are increasingly turning to higher-end mobile phones to download music and watch Bollywood movie clips.
Telecoms is one of the country’s less heavily regulated sectors, with foreign investors permitted to own 74 per cent of Indian mobile operators.
The biggest service provider is still Bharti Airtel, one of the first GSM operators in India, which has a market share of 21.6 per cent or 30.26 million subscribers.
It is closely followed by Reliance, which offers both GSM and CDMA services, on 28.58 million subscribers, or 20.4 per cent of the market.
Hutchison is in third place with 23.33 million subscribers, giving it a market share of 16.66 per cent. But it is the leader in the lucrative markets of Bombay, Calcutta and Gujarat.
Within India, the biggest local markets are Andhra Pradesh and Delhi with about 11 million subscribers each. But even the most backward states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar boast subscriber bases of 6.7 million and 5.1 million respectively.

Hutchison Essar - Vodafone's view

Vodafone, the UK mobile group, has predicted that the race to buy India’s Hutchison Essar could drag on until March. The deadline for offers closes today.

The company made the prediction after reporting largely upbeat figures for the quarter ended December 31, 2006, and revealing that customer numbers had topped the 200 million mark.
New customers during the quarter reached 8.7 million, beating forecasts of between 5.6 million and 7.6 million new users. At the end of the quarter, Vodafone’s customers totalled 198.6 million and this month the figure has exceeded 200 million.
Bidders are understood to have until today to table an offer for Hutchison Essar, India's fourth-largest mobile operator, with a decision expected by the end of February. However, Vodafone’s chief executive, Arun Sarin, said this morning that the deal could take until March to conclude.
Earlier this month, the Hinduja Group made a $17 billion (£8.7 billion) non-binding offer for the company. Also in the running are Essar, which holds a 33 per stake in the target company, and India’s Reliance.
Vodafone's organic revenue grew by 6.1 per cent in the quarter and by the same percentage over nine months. However, the group said Europe was "challenging". Sales there were up marginally at 0.9 per cent, hit by Germany, where regulatory changes to pre-paid disconnection policies were introduced.
Emerging market operations performed well and overall revenue increased by 14.4 per cent.
Vodafone Group Plc vowed not to pay "over the top" in the multi-billion-pound battle for India's Hutchison Essar on Wednesday, as the British mobile phone giant said it had crossed the 200-million customer mark.
Chief Executive Arun Sarin said final bids in the auction to win control of India's fourth biggest mobile operator were still "weeks away" and that the probability of Vodafone's success remained "very hard to call".
Europe's most valuable telecoms company is one of at least four bidders eyeing a 67-percent stake put up for sale by parent Hong Kong's Hutchison International Ltd, and its rising valuation had led to some concerns the acquisitive firm could overpay.
"(This asset is) very strategically aligned with what we have been saying to shareholders. Equally, we are going to be financially disciplined. We will participate fully, but we are not going to go over the top," Sarin told reporters.
The bidding for Hutch Essar, ultimately controlled by Hong Kong-based ports-to-telecoms conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa kicked off in late December with valuations of around $13-15 billion, but has shot up to as much as $20 billion.
Vodafone, which is battling India's Reliance Communication and the Essar and Hinduja groups in the auction, is increasingly dependent on growth in emerging markets to compensate for slowing growth in western Europe.
Vodafone, which has a 10 percent stake in India's biggest mobile operator Bharti Airtel, has long been keen to increase its exposure to India, the world's fastest growing mobile market that is seeing around 6 million new subscribers each month and has plenty of headroom to grow.
The world's biggest mobile operator outside of China said its customer base had crossed the 200 million customer mark, as it beat forecasts for new sign-ups with 8.7 million customers taking up its services in the fiscal third-quarter.
"It took us 15 years to get our first 100 million customers," he told reporters. "It took us 5 years to get the next 100 million. There is good momentum in the business."
Vodafone said its mobile revenue rose 6.1 percent during the key Christmas quarter, with growth in emerging markets such as eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa far outpacing core Western Europe markets.
Vodafone was expected to add a net 7.5 million customers in the quarter, according to the average forecast of 12 analysts polled by Reuters. The average forecast for revenue growth was 6.2 percent.
"Very solid performance which adds confidence to investment case," said Dresdner Kleinwort analyst Robert Grindle.
Vodafone shares were 1.7 percent up at 149-1/2 pence by 0845 GMT. The shares have gained 28 percent in the past five months as they recover from a turbulent 2006, during which Sarin survived a rebellion from a minority of shareholders upset at his efforts to tackle slowing growth in core European markets.
The stock is traded at 13.6 times forecast earnings, compared with 14.1 for the DJ Stoxx European telecoms index.
Vodafone also reiterated its full year forecasts, saying it expected mobile revenue growth for the year to be within its previously indicated range of 5 to 6.5 percent and mobile EBITDA margin one percentage point lower.
Earlier this week, rival Deutsche Telekom sent shivers through the European telecoms sector with a profit warning -- its second in six months -- blaming fierce competition in the German market.
"Vodafone outperformed T-Mobile in Germany and produced decent improvements in revenue growth in the UK and Italy," Goldman Sachs analysts said in a research note.

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