Seldom has a sector been disrupted so brutally by a new entrant as has the Indian telecom market with the entry over two years ago of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio. India’s richest man came into telecom for his second innings by pumping in a staggering $30 billion in state-of-the-art infrastructure and a pan-Indian fibre optic network, and the result was immediate. Existing telecom giants like Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, and Idea were forced to rush back to their drawing boards and prepare battle plans. All options were on the table since Ambani’s deep pockets also led to him unleashing a never-before-seen price war to secure subscribers with breakneck speed.
Two years later, India now has three major players left to slug it out in the market—Vodafone Idea (the result of a merger between Vodafone and Idea) with Kumar Mangalam Birla as chairman, Sunil Bharti Mittal’s Bharti Airtel, and Jio. And Ambani’s relentless attack continues, with Jio eyeing nothing short of the top spot. Airtel, which has been dislodged from the number one position in terms of subscribers by the newly-created Vodafone Idea, finds itself caught in the slugfest between Ambani and Birla. While Vodafone Idea will have to aggressively defend its turf and pump in funds to counter Ambani, Jio, on the other hand, is leaving no stone unturned, topping up its aggressive pricing with innovations to target the lucrative rural market which had so far been Idea’s strength prior to the merger.
Mittal, India’s original telecom entrepreneur, will have to pull out some tricks from his bag if he is to hold on to his market share. But the riveting battle to watch, as deputy editor T. Surendar tells us in the cover story, will be the one between Ambani and Birla and their two conglomerates.
Talking of battles, there’s another face-off which, despite a ceasefire for now, continues to simmer beneath the surface. That’s the one between the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) over a host of contentious issues like systemic liquidity and the amount of the RBI’s reserves which should be transferred to the government. Deputy editor Ashish Gupta brings you that story.
As 2018 draws to a close, I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t acknowledge the excellent work done behind the scenes by three of my colleagues—deputy editor Sugita Katyal, art director Anirban Ghosh, and senior photo editor Narendra Bisht—who work tirelessly to bring you every issue of Fortune India. Their hard work and commitment deserve high praise. Sugita, Anirban, and Narendra, take a bow!
(The article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of the magazine)