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ILD : No Room For Minnows

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Price slashes have been happening in the national long distance (NLD) as well

as the international long distance (ILD) business. Entry norms for both have

been eased, yet the enthusiasm shown by new players to enter the NLD segment did

not penetrate the ILD scene in India.

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The three ILD players in India majorly had the market split up between them

and took the ILD market to Rs 7,251 crore with a growth rate of over 89%. VSNL

led the pack with about 50% market share and Rs 3,579 crore in revenue. Reliance

grew 314% to clock revenue of Rs 2,714 crore. Bharti closed the ranks with Rs

958 crore on a growth rate of 18.3% and a market share of 13.3%.

On the policy front, the government slashed the entry fee to Rs 2.5 crore

from Rs 25 crore, annual license fee was reduced from 15% to 6% of adjusted

gross revenue (AGR), and rollout obligations were limited to just one switch in

India. But all this fanfare resulted in more tariff reduction.

TRAI has made several recommendations for the ILD segment. It wanted the

players to be allowed to resell bandwidth by 2007, and all ILD players be

allowed access to existing cable landing stations in the country. Equal access

to facilities of landing stations has already been permitted, but some of the

other recommendations remain in limbo-the fate of carrier selection being a

case in point.

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The reduction in IPLC prices finally happened after VSNL raised objections on

the price ceiling and the manner of setting those ceilings. The price ceilings

now stand at Rs 1.3 mn per annum for E1 for IPLC (Half Circuit); Rs 10.4 mn per

annum for DS-3; and Rs 29.9 mn per annum for STM-1. Despite that reduction, the

gray market remained a force to content with, claiming about 1.3 bn minutes of

usage in FY 2006-07. The problem, it seems, is not about price alone and it will

not go away without an industry-wide effort.

TRAI had also recommended that international cable carriers, without ILD

licenses, be allowed to terminate cable capacities on existing cable landing

stations. The authority recommended that such carriers be licensed as

'international infrastructure providers' and they should not pay any entry

fee or annual revenue share.

This move would increase the competition in the ILD and IPLC sector even

further.

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Winners and losers



BSNL: Despite all the sops, BSNL (which has a license for ILD services)

still held back its ILD plans. The only movement from its side was progress on

the Rs 80 crore submarine cable to Sri Lanka. It plans to eventually link up

this cable to wider markets across the region, but till the end of FY 2005-06,

the cable had not been commissioned. The cable would be laid between Tuticorin

(India) and Mt Lavinia (Sri Lanka) and the cable distance would be about 325 km.

It is likely to start with an initial capacity of 20-40 Gbps that can later be

upgraded to 960 Gbps.

VSNL: The company's market share slipped below 50% for the first time, but

it continued growing at 72% to gross Rs 3,579 crore in FY 2005-06. Faced with

competition from the Indian companies, VSNL decided to make the world its arena

by entering the league of the AT&Ts and the MCIs.

Revenues aside, VSNL went global this year with the Tyco's acquisition

being finalized and Teleglobe becoming its latest prized catch. The company

expects Tyco to be profitable by FY 07-08.

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Companies

in India are alive and open to international opportunities, as is evident

from the acquisition spree

VSNL is now the world's fifth largest carrier of voice. It now has 206,356

Rkm of terrestrial and submarine fiber network, with 75 PoPs in 25 countries and

access to five geo-stationary satellites through more than 30 dedicated earth

stations. The acquisition was made at about Rs 1,000 crore.

It also became the second network operator in South Africa. With a 26% stake

in the joint venture, it is the largest stakeholder in this new entity. The

company is expected to invest Rs 850—1,000 crore in the venture over the next

four years. Some of the other partners in the second network operator license

are-Eskom, Transtel, Black Empowerment Enterprise, and Communitel. The venture

is expected to provide VSNL a base for going to other African countries.

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The company also had 15 international IP-VPN PoPs in 2005-06 compared to 10

in the previous year.

Reliance: The company went ballistic with its ILD plans, growing at more than

314% and cornering a market share of 38% in FY 2005-06. Its 'Reliance India

Call' cards gave a large share of the international voice traffic to India.

With its FLAG and FALCON cables, the company did well in the wholesale bandwidth

business. FLAG connects with 28 countries: from the US to countries in Europe,

West Asia, and South and East Asia.

When the FALCON cable system is completed, it would connect 12 countries in

the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. The company now has a

formidable international connectivity from India to West Asia. FALCON is

estimated to be $400 mn project. It has 25 international cable landing stations

including, four ILD gateways (LA, NY, London, HK), and five ILD gateways in

India.

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On the voice front, Reliance did well with 445.3 crore minutes of usage. The

success of the company's retail long distance calling cards made the revenue

even more lucrative. Taking an aggressive stand on its ILD business, the company

took lead in the slashing of ILD rates by 45-69% on the last day of the 2005-06

fiscal. The company's ILD business was further boosted (at least the traffic)

by the introduction of flat rate calling plans. Reliance also added value to its

ILD revenue by offering voice service to international call centers and

corporates.

Its IPLC business also grew, contributing 14% to its revenues from long

distance services.

Top ILD Operators

(Based on Revenue)

Rank

Company

Revenue (in Rs crore)

Growth  (in

%age)

Market Share (in

%age)

FY 2004-05

FY 2005-06

1

VSNL

2,080

3,579

72.1

49.4

2

Reliance

655

2,714

314.4

37.4

3

Bharti

810

958

18.3

13.2

 



Data Access*

285

NA

NA

NA

 



Total

3,830

7,251

89.3

100.0

*License Revoked

last year

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Bharti: Bharti's ILD business looked pale in comparison

to the other two players. It had revenues of Rs 958 crore in FY 2005-06 and a

market share of about 13%. The most significant happening at Bharti in the last

fiscal was Vodafone's acquisition of 10% stake in the company. Besides that,

on the ILD front, it commissioned the Se-Me-We-4 cable successfully. The cable

has a capacity of 81 STMs. It has three ILD gateways in Singapore, Los Angles,

and London; and plans facilities at Hong Kong and New York too.

The company began to look at terrestrial fiber route too, with links to Nepal

and Pakistan. But it is still to get the clearance for a cable to Pakistan.

On the international connectivity part, the company worked with 18

international carriers, to provide connectivity to most parts of the world.

Unlike the other ILD operators, the company has not been very aggressive on

inorganic growth internationally. The company is also pushing its world calling

cards through outlets at various airports.

International Connectivity



With the bandwidth becoming a commodity, profits were for the taking with

the international connectivity services provider. Call centers and

multinationals expanding their operations in India, the sector grew gradually.

All the ILD players collaborated with the international service providers to

cater to the customers. The sector saw some new players with VSNL International

and FLAG reinvigorating their operations.

Equant went under the brand Orange of France Telecom, though its operational

office in India continued to be known as Equant. One characteristic of Equant

was that it took bandwidth from almost all the utility players. Some of the

other players that continued to remain active in India are: AT&T, MCI, Cable

& Wireless, SingTel, BT, Sprint, BT Infonet, NTT, KDDI, Orient Networks,

PCCW, and Sify.

Outlook



While the business is no longer as profitable as it used to be, the demand

for it is huge, and the business has acquired the proportions of a vital

infrastructure for the country. While the serious submarine cable activity till

a few year ago had been concentrated in the trans-Atlantic arena (driven by the

macro-economic factors), the new arena of activity is most likely to shift

eastwards, thriving on demands from the newly emerging markets. Companies in

India are alive and open to these opportunities, as is evident from the

acquisition spree in the international connectivity market. Not just the growth

in India, the ILD activities of Indian players are banking on growth in the

entire Asian region. Given that, the large players will only be getting larger,

and the war of the Indian companies' ILD operations will be fought at global

level-India becoming only a small part of that business.

Alok Singh



aloksi@cybermedia.co.in

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