It seems like tech giants Microsoft and Google are following Facebook’s footsteps of investing in Indian telecom market. Google is reportedly considering to buy a 5 per cent stake in financially-stressed Vodafone Idea, according to Financial Times. On the other hand, Microsoft is exploring to invest up to $2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms, Mint reported on Friday.
In what could alter the Indian telecom scenario, Google is reportedly exploring to buy a 5 per cent stake in financially-stressed Vodafone Idea, a move that would not only pit Sundar Pichai-led tech giant against Facebook which has poured in Rs 43,574 crore for 9.99 per cent stake in Reliance-led Jio Platforms but also help struggling Vodafone stand up in the world’s fastest growing mobile market.
According to a report in the Financial Times on Thursday, “Google was considering buying a stake of about 5 per cent in Vodafone Idea, a partnership between the UK telecom company and India’s Aditya Birla Group that has been under severe financial strain. Another said the process was at a very early stage.”
Both Google and Vodafone did not comment on the report.
According to the same FT report, Google’s parent company Alphabet also held talks with Reliance Jio Platforms to acquire a slice of Jio Platforms but lagged behind. The youngest Indian telecom has already raised $10.3 billion in one month from major global investors like Facebook, Silver Lake, KKR, General Atlantic, and Vista.
Microsoft’s interest in Reliance Jio, having more than 388 million user base, has created a lot of buzz in the global market in the past one month. Though, none of the sides has confirmed the news yet.
Commenting on Google’s interest in Vodafone the FT report said, “Pursuing Vodafone Idea instead would potentially pit (put) Google against Facebook and an increasingly dominant Jio but the company could also make multiple investments in India.”
According to Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group, CMR, Google is interested in buying a 5 per cent stake in Vodafone Idea to give impetus to its India push.
“India is the fastest growing mobile-first nation, with significant digital transformation at its core. Also, the move may be to take on the Facebook-backed Jio behemoth,” Ram said in a statement.
India has become one of the latest global markets to offer a billion users to mega-companies. In the last decade, half of country’s population came online, while the rest half is yet to start using the Internet. In this, Google and Facebook have played a crucial role in bringing more people online.
Of the two mega companies, Facebook has still continued one of its efforts, ‘Express Wi-Fi,’ in India, whereas, Google discontinued its WiFi project that allowed lakhs of people to access free internet at railway stations.
The development between Google and financially-troubled Vodafone brings a sigh of relief as it has over Rs 53,000 crore in Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)-related dues, according to an estimate by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
Late last month, the Supreme Court gave partial relief to Vodafone Idea by allowing for a tax refund of Rs 733 crore to the telecom operator. Vodafone Idea had sought a refund of Rs 4,700 crore.
In a regulatory filing, Vodafone Idea earlier paid a sum of Rs 2,500 crore on February 17, 2020 and a further sum of Rs 1,000 crore on February 20 towards the AGR liability.
“The company has paid a further amount of Rs 3,354 crore to the DoT, being the balance part of the principal amount towards AGR liability. Thus the company has paid the full principal amount of Rs 6,854 crore towards the AGR dues,” it had said.
According to Vodafone Idea’s own assessment, its AGR dues stand at Rs 21,533 crore and the principal amount out of the total dues is Rs 6,854 crore. However, according to the DoT’s estimate, the company’s overall dues stand at Rs 53,000 crore.
On the other hand, the behemoth Jio Platforms has an equity value of Rs 4.91 lakh crore and an enterprise value of Rs 5.16 lakh crore.
In a big relief for telecom operators, the DoT in March moved the Supreme Court seeking its approval for a 20-year window for payment of around Rs 1.47 lakh crore AGR dues, as adverse functioning of the telecom firms could have a negative impact on the economy and consumers across the country.