Indian Telecom Story (Part XXXb): The case for Telco viabilities
Continued from earlier post: Indian Telecom Story (Part XXXa): 3G a near Reality
The 3G spectrum winning bids are under the microscope because of the huge drains on the Telco P&Ls and there is a lot of debate about how and why the costs that the Telcos have brown to get a 20 year stake in 3G Spectrum are unjustifed. This post tries looking at the costs and the accruals from a long horizon perspective.
High Tariffs and Low Returns
Doubts exist whether 3G services will prove to be a big money-spinner and ease the pressure on the sector, and some experts cite the experience of developed western markets where 3G services are only now starting to gain traction despite being around for at least five years.
The fear of higher prices is misplaced. The higher spectrum charges are sunk costs. Economists remind us that in a competitive market, such costs cannot be passed on to customers. A mobile company cannot attract customers if its tariff is not competitive. In India’s telecom market, raising prices will require a level of concerted action difficult even in simpler markets with fewer players.
Accrual of Benefits
The benefits of 3G spectrum will become even more pronounced once mobile number portability (MNP) is implemented. The presence of 3G offerings will allow operators to retain their premium subscribers and attract subscribers from competing networks; ARPUs for these subscribers are nearly four times the industry ARPUs, resulting in significantly higher profitability.
The Road ahead
The winners will be awarded spectrum in September, which means rollout of 3G services will be possible only by the end of 2010 or early 2011.For at least the first year, the main focus is expected to be on improving call quality. 3G uptake in India is expected to be slow in the initial stages as 3G handsets are costlier than 2G handsets.
Initially, the 3G spectrum to be primarily used for voice services, enabling operators to address the spectrum shortage that characterises the sector today. 3G technology, which is at least twice as spectrally efficient as 2G, will enable operators to service more subscribers with the available spectrum, without compromising on quality of service. This is critical given the lack of clarity on further allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum. However, the commoditised nature of voice services provides little scope for operators to differentiate in this arena. Therefore, to gain an edge, players will gradually leverage 3G technology and provide differentiated value-added services such mobile TV, videoconferencing and high-speed internet browsing. This will enable them not only to improve their ARPUs, but also to ease the pricing pressure that they face on account of intense competition in 2G services. 3G will also help operators reduce network congestion, and thereby cater to more 2G subscribers as well.