220px Bangalore cellphone tower November 2011 30$5B - $50B auction scaring some out of business. Not long ago, India had 12 wireless companies and the toughest voice competition in the world. Sistema came in from Russia and has given up. Telenor from Norway has indicated it will skip the auction and probably leave the country. Mukesh Ambani's brother, Anil Ambani, is expected to merge his Reliance Comm with Aircel, very strong in South India's Tamil Nadu. UBS expects Tata DOCOMO to also give up soon. Ambani of Jio sees only four or five likely to survive.

Indian analysts and press believe the companies have neither the financing nor capacity to buy most of the amazingly large amount available in the auction. See . Merrill Lynch forecasts as little as $5B; Suresh Mahadevan of UBS speculates, "Airtel and Idea may not participate in the 700MHz spectrum auctions because the pricing is extremely high." An alternate view is that Jio and the current giants will jump in hard for enough spectrum to operate efficiently. LTE works best with at least 20x20 MHz, far more than most of them use today. The lower costs of operation would be a major competitive advantage. (My take, but I'm 10,000 miles away.)

 Reliance Jio intends to win 100M customers as soon as possible and an even larger market share over time. The primary offers are unlimited nighttime calls and four gigabytes of LTE for less than $8/month. For $2.25, you get unlimited night time calls and 300 megabits of data. At 20 gigabytes, the cost falls to $0.74/gig. 

Prices are going down at all the other companies as well. "It is a question of survival in the market… there is no other way but to match Jio, tariff by tariff. If tariff of Jio is aggressive, the tariff of BSNL and of all other operators is also going to be aggressive," Anupam Shrivastava said

Ambani has one of the most cost-effective networks in the world. Everything is IP, including voice. They have a massive network for backhaul and own part of an international cable for low transit costs. They have scale in a business based on scale. No 2G, 3G or voice switch costs. That's so hard to match many will just give up.

 Mukesh has advantages the smaller companies can't match, including friendship with the Prime Minister, who let his picture be used in advertisements. All of the Indian mega-billionaires have built political connections, including Birla of Idea Cellcom and Mittal of Bharti.This is critical because spectrum has been doled out by a corrupt political process. (Minister Raja went to jail, but most have not been prosecuted.) Aircel (not to be confused with Bharti Airtel,) has been accused of hundreds of millions in bribes. The smaller companies couldn't compete for political influence without payoffs. 

India in a few years will add 400-700M mobile net connections, aided by new lower pricing and cheap LTE phones.

dave ask

@analysisbranch for latest updates


Welcome  Asia is installing hundreds of thousands of 5G radios and adding 5G subs by the tens of millions. The west is far behind. 200,000,000 in 2020

The demand is there, and most of the technology works. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

I'm Dave Burstein, Editor. I've been reporting telecom since 1999. I love to hear from readers and say thank you when you find an error. daveb@dslprime.com

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