India’s population presents itself as a telecom market with immense potential. The country has a population of 1.35 billion, of which 1.17 billion have a mobile phone connection. Adding even more spice to these numbers is the fact that these 1.17 billion are distributed among just four telecom operators in the country. These four are Reliance Jio with 376.5 million subscribers (32.56%), Vodafone Idea with 329 million subscribers (28.45%), Bharti Airtel with 328.2 million subscribers (28.38%), and the state-owned BSNL 122.7 million subscribers (10.61%).
Facebook recently scooped up 9.99% stake in Reliance Jio, giving it a small presence in the Indian telecom sector. Now, a new report suggests that Google is eyeing a 5% stake in Vodafone Idea, the second-largest player.
According to a report from Financial Times, citing two people with knowledge on the matter, Google is exploring an investment into Vodafone Group’s Indian business that is run through Vodafone Idea. Google could be considering buying a 5% stake in Vodafone Idea, which itself is a partnership between UK’s Vodafone Group and India’s Aditya Birla Group.
This possible investment comes in the backdrop of two important events: one, a recent Indian Supreme Court judgment left Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel in a precarious position in the Indian market as they struggled to pay back the pending dues and interest that had accumulated over years. Two, Reliance Jio has been steadily attracting investments, totaling over $10 billion from Facebook and private equity groups including KKR, General Atlantic, Vista Equity Partners, and Silver Lake.
Google’s parent company Alphabet was also in talks about acquiring a stake in Reliance Jio, and the report suggests that this conversation is still underway despite Facebook beating Alphabet to the finish line. So this new investment into Vodafone Idea could be part of a multi-pronged investment strategy into the Indian telecom market. It would also extend a much-needed lifeline to Vodafone Idea and give it a boost in securing its Indian operations for a longer period.
All stakeholders declined to comment on the matter. If the deal does indeed come to fruition, we’ll definitely hear about it.
Source: Financial Times