Voda-Idea Merger May Not Be Easy, Say Experts
TOUGH CALLS Consolidation of ecosystem partners inevitable, they say
Kolkata: Idea and Vodafone India plan to shortly kick off operational integration of their networks following the go-ahead by the competition regulator. But the exercise is likely to be fraught with challenges, possibly requiring tough and costly calls leading to consolidation of their ecosystem partners, experts said. The Idea management, at an earnings call last week, said the company can “now plan the integration aspects” with approvals in place from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for its merger with Vodafone India. Brokerage house HSBC said “prompt CCI approval is a positive”, but the integration of Idea and Vodafone India’s operations will have to “be seamlessly executed” to ensure the merged entity is able to contest market disruption by Reliance Jio Infocomm that is expected to continue for several quarters. Rajiv Sharma, HSBC director and telecom analyst, said the IdeaVodafone operations integration “may not be easy as the two organisations differ significantly in terms of billing systems, network vendors and culture”. Former Bharti Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor backed the view, saying an Idea-Vodafone merger would induce the need to make several tough choices around technology vendors, IT partners, CRM partners (such as third-party contact centres), and should naturally lead to realignment of existing agreements and contracts with their respective partners.
“Since the objective would be to build synergy and avoid duplication of network, systems, people resources and partners on a circleby-circle basis, the consolidation at the ecosystem partners level is inevitable,” he said.
Nitin Soni, director at ratings agency, Fitch, said he expected the integration to be complex and cost- ly. “Countrywide network integration could prove costly as both telcos might have to terminate some long-term contracts with partner tower companies prematurely, for which they could end up shelling out hefty penalties,” he said.
Vodafone India and Idea Cellular’s vendors for towers, network equipment, managed services and IT include more than half a dozen companies. Indus Towers, Bharti Infratel, American Tower Corp and GTL Infrastructure provide towers while Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia provide telecom gear and some also do managed services. IT vendors include primarily IBM, Tech Mahindra and Accenture.
The carriers will have to choose between vendors running parallel service and supply contracts, so as to keep one network. They may even redistribute markets between suppliers. Brokerage Goldman Sachs has said that Vodafone and Idea would have a significant “tower overlap”.
Queries sent by ET to Idea Cellular and Vodafone India did not elicit any response till late evening on Friday. Vodafone and Idea are in the process of forming an equal rights joint venture that will create India’s largest phone company by subscribers and revenue market share, which will be better placed to take on the competition posed by Reliance Jio Infocomm.
With approval for the merger coming in from the antitrust body, both telcos are awaiting regulatory approvals from stock market regulator Sebi and stock exchanges, applications for which have been filed, besides the telecom department.
Another challenge, Soni said, is integrating Vodafone and Idea’s marketing teams, which would hinge on whether the combined entity decides to carry two corporate brands or just one. “Carrying two brands can prove very expensive for the IdeaVodafone combined entity as it would require dedicated marketing teams to support each brand, which might not be a great idea,” said Soni.