A quiet coup in the works as Airtel, Jio fight it out

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NEW DELHI: Reliance Jio’s stormy entry into $26 billion Indian telecom market riding on big freebies is seen as a challenge to Airtel, the No. 1 company. But a merger of British giant Vodafone and the Aditya Birla Group company Idea—No. 2 and No. 3, respectively—can change the game.

Airtel, which now seems to be threatened by Reliance Jio’s aggressive push, can actually be relegated to No. 3 position if the Vodafone-Idea merger takes place.

Also, it would be mighty difficult for Reliance Jio to beat the new No. 1 company.

The combined subscriber count of the merged entity would be nearly 39 crore, substantially higher than Airtel’s 27 crore and Jio’s present number of 7.2 crore. It would have a revenue market share of nearly 40 per cent compared with Airtel’s near-32 per cent. It would have the strongest retail footprint in the industry, as well as robust spectrum holdings.

Sources say talks to explore a merger have been on for some time. Idea’s decision to postpone its January 23 meeting to consider third-quarter results has added fuel to the speculation. A fresh date is yet to be set.

Emergence of as big a player as the merged entity will upset all present calculations. It would be seen how long Reliance Jio can go with its aggression. If Reliance continues its innovation, it will hit Airtel more than the consolidated entity which would have the benefits of market share as well as spectrum holdings.