Merger and acquisition activity among Indian service providers surged last year, with predictions of another busy year throughout the remainder of 2018, as telcos use size to improve their competitiveness, buying power and footprint.
Telco M&A activity reached a value of $14.69 billion in 2017, according to a March 2018 EY report. That was up 500% from $2.7 billion the prior year, EY research determined.
Overall, India's total M&A deal volume hit a seven-year high in 2017 with 1,022 transactions worth $46.8 billion, EY determined. Telecom firms represented about one third of the value of all Indian M&A transactions in 2017; financial services came in second with 17% market share, followed by technology's 12%, according to Thomson Reuters.
"The sector put up an impressive show, leading the pack with the highest yearly deal value of $14.7 billion recorded in the last ten years, although on the volume front, the activity was flat with 19 deals, the same as last year," EY said in a note on the telecoms industry, as reported by the Economic Times.
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As service providers rely more on content to differentiate themselves, boost profits and woo new subscribers while retaining existing customers, the Indian media and entertainment segment saw its share of M&A activity, too. However, this declined to 40 deals in 2017 from 56 in 2016, with value more than halving to $1.3 billion last year from $2.8 billion last year in 2016, EY determined.
Why so many M&As?
The provider market is highly fragmented, with about 60,000 local cable operators (LCOs) and 6,000-plus multi-service operators (MSOs), according to EY. In addition to one free-to-home satellite service, India also includes six direct-to-home (DTH) operators and one headend-in-the-sky (HITS) operator, the consulting and integration firm determined. Combined, the DTH and top ten MSOs serve 65% of the market, according to EY.
Why So Many M&As?
The rest of the nation's service providers battle over their region's portion of the remaining 35% of the market. Growth projections available in EY's report and elsewhere predict continued, increasing adoption of broadband -- for everything from video to 4K to education to telehealth and communications -- across cities, residential customers, government agencies, enterprises and SMBs.
Domestic operators led India's M&As, accounting for 92% of telcos' deal value and 58% of the deal count, reported the Economic Times. This consolidation will continue, ultimately resulting in three or four strong national contenders, EY predicts.
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Added Yashojit Mitra, partner in the General Corporate Practice at the Mumbai Office of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, in a blog: "The proposed mergers of Idea-Vodafone, and Airtel-Telenor in a fragmented telecom sector is an attempt to counter the threat of a relatively new player, Reliance Jio, which is disrupting the sector with its low prices and offers, and aggressive signing of subscribers.
"The proposed purchase of certain assets of Reliance Communication by Reliance Jio will further propel Jioís standing in the industry, making it a greater threat to the other telecom companies," he added. "Post these consolidations in the telecom space, there will only be around four to five key players remaining, and the smaller players will be eliminated."
International players also eye Indian providers with interest, especially with a new government telecom policy on the horizon. This program is scheduled to address areas such as licensing frameworks, research and development, innovation, data security, privacy and India's 5G roadmap, EY said. Consolidation also will phase out the tariff wars that have plagued many providers' bottom lines and allow post-acquisition companies to save on duplicative processes (such as accounting and human resources) and leverage synergies (such as infrastructure investments, fiber and field technicians), the consultancy said.
"[All these factors] triggered the long-awaited consolidation in the telecom sector," EY told Economic Times, "precipitating merger announcements by some players and exits/buyouts by others."
India's government is expected to soon approve the merger between Idea Cellular and Vodafone India Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan, told the India Times in late March. The number two and three carriers in India are merging their operations in the country to create a business that will be co-owned by UK's Vodafone Group and India's diversified Aditya Birla Group, the article said.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter @BroadbandWN or @alisoncdiana.