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Darwin effect: 3-4 telcos may Jio after potential M&As

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MUMBAI: When you can't fight them, join them. Discretion is the best part of valor -- are some of the quotable quotes that one has heard. They seem to be proving right in the context of the neck-and-neck race among the existing rivals and a new entrant in the Indian telecom space.

The new entrant Reliance Jio has caused a considerable disruption in the space. No matter it is working out to the benefit of the consumer and helping the industry expand albeit at a much lower cost to the end-user, well-entrenched rivals now are on a slippery wicket.

Vodafone India for example is considering its options of a possible merger with one of the existing rivals. Or, the things could take such a turn that it may be inclined to join the tough new entrant -- Jio.

On the other hand, the leading telco Bharti Airtel too launched a number of schemes to face competition. Meanwhile, Airtel is reportedly in discussion to buy Telenor's India business in a deal that will involve taking on debt of Rs 1,500 crore to take on Reliance Jio. Telenor operates in six of the 22 telecom circles in India and offers 2G services to its 45 million users.

Although, there were reports that Vodafone may be seeking merger with Idea or Jio, experts believe a merger with the former was a possibility. Vodafone had launched several tariffs to browbeat competition from Airtel and Jio. The Indian unit is reportedly seeking a merger with one of the top telecom companies following intensified competition. Vodafone may be keen for a possible tie-up with Idea, Jio or another of the top three providers. Jio’s aggressive tariffs and heavy investments started impacting competitor a few weeks after it entered.

Experts opine that the industry is prepared for a major consolidation with smaller companies such as Telenor likely to be bought over and middle-level companies such as Reliance Communication and Aircel seeking mergers. The exercise will eventually leave space for some 3-4 players.

But, there is some apprehension. With two decades of existence, it may be a bit early to expect merger for Idea or Vodafone. Vodafone may rather go for a buyout.

In September 2016, Vodafone invested Rs 47,700 crore in the Indian unit, most of which was used to reduce debt to Rs 35,430 crore by the end of second quarter of 2016-17. By September, the Indian company had 200 million mobile customers. In November, Vodafone cut the valuation of its Indian unit by GBP 5 billion owing to stiff competition.

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