What’s up with… American Tower, Vodafone Idea, T-Mobile US

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Jan 5, 2024

  • American Tower sells Indian operation for $2.5bn
  • Vodafone Idea desperately needs a new capital injection
  • T-Mobile US boasts carrier aggregation first

In today’s industry news roundup: American Towers exits India with $2.53bn sale; new year, same old financial woes for Vodafone Idea; T-Mobile US teams with Ericsson and Qualcomm for six-carrier aggregation breakthrough; and much more!

American Tower has sold its business in India for 210bn Indian rupees ($2.53bn) to investment firm Brookfield Asset Management, which will become the country’s largest towers firm if the deal gains all necessary approvals and closes as expected in the second half of this year. American Tower has struggled with its loss-making Indian operations, which total 57,000 tower sites, mainly because its prime customer is beleaguered operator Vodafone Idea (see below). Brookfield, which built a major position in India via the $3.7bn acquisition of Indian Telecom Towers from Reliance Industries in 2019, currently operates 157,000 sites under the management of its Summit Digitel business, boasts mobile market leader Reliance Jio as its main anchor tenant, and will add 77,000 sites from the acquisition of American Tower’s assets. That will make it bigger than India’s current leading player, Indus Towers, which boasts 193,000 and the country’s second-largest mobile service provider, Bharti Airtel, as its anchor tenant. Clearly, Brookfield believes that its scale and relationship with Jio will enable it to turn around the fortunes of the American Tower assets.     

Still in India… The country’s third-largest mobile operator Vodafone Idea is facing bankruptcy – yet again. In about 600 BC, the Ancient Greek storyteller Aesop was compiling his book of Fables. They are still popular and the moral lessons they teach remain relevant to this very day. One of the most famous is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. In India, in 2024, it is beginning to look as if Vodafone Idea (aka Vi, or sometimes even V!) is applying the Aesop playbook as its seemingly endless financial crisis deepens yet again. Vi has been circling the drain of defalcation for years now with mounting debt and this New Year starts with yet another disaster looming. Banks, financial institutions and investors are refusing to throw yet more good money after bad at the distressed company. Meanwhile, the telco's actual owners, the Vodafone Group and Aditya Birla Group, say they won’t stump up any more cash either, but that could be a ruse designed to panic the Indian government into using yet more taxpayer money to once again bail out the service provider. Hitherto, the government has been determined to ensure that the telecom in India shall not slide into a situation where the market is dominated by the duopoly of Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, which together account for more than 72% of the country’s mobile connections, and has intervened to keep Vi (which has just seen its market share dip below 20%) afloat as a viable competitive alternative to them. Now though, the government seems to be playing hardball, saying it won’t lend Vi any more and there is even speculation it might sell the 33.1% stake it holds in the telco after a debt-to-equity rescue mission it funded in 2022. That rumour was tied directly to claims (from a variety of sources) that Vi was in talks with Elon Musk about some kind of a partnership with his satellite broadband venture Starlink: Vi dismissed the rumours while Musk denied involvement in any such scheme and declined to invest in Vi. At that point, the Indian government also denied it had ever intended to sell its stake in Vi directly to Starlink. So Vi is now running around like a headless chicken trying to find a way, any way, to refinance its debt and stay afloat a while longer. In the end, though, there is a growing likelihood that 2024 will be the year that Vodafone Idea finally throws in the towel and declares itself bankrupt. After all, India is already a de facto two-player telecoms market and Vi is in no position to compete in the race to cover India with 5G connectivity where Jio and Airtel already have an unassailable lead. Given those factors, it is more likely that, one day, the government may simply give up on Vi altogether, publicly accept that India is already a duopoly telecom market and that, as a result, competition (where it exists at all) will inevitably be limited, partial and to the eventual detriment of Indian business and domestic consumers alike. 

T-Mobile US, the self-proclaimed ‘un-carrier’, has achieved “the world’s first six-carrier aggregation call” using sub-6GHz spectrum on its live 5G network. Conducting the test alongside Ericsson and Qualcomm, the company claimed to have reached speeds exceeding 3.6Gbit/s which, according to its estimations, is fast enough to enable the download of a two-hour HD movie in less than seven seconds. In the test, T-Mobile merged six 5G channels of mid-band spectrum – two channels of 2.5GHz on its 5G network and two channels of personal communications service (PCS) spectrum, as well as two channels of advanced wireless services (AWS) spectrum – creating an effective 245MHz of aggregated 5G channels. “With the first and largest 5G standalone network in the country, T-Mobile is the only mobile provider serving tens of millions of customers to unleash new capabilities like 5G carrier aggregation nationwide,” said Ulf Ewaldsson, president of technology at T-Mobile. The telco covers more than 330 million people across the US with its 5G network. Find out more.

In his new year message, Toru Maruoka, the president and CEO at NTT Communications, the international enterprise services arm of giant Japanese telco NTT Group, noted that following the unveiling of the operator’s large language model (LLM) (dubbed tsuzumi) late last year, “we will work with clients and partners to create reliable solutions that take advantage of tsuzumi's scalable Al features as we strive to make 2024 our first year to fully implement generative AI.” In addition, NTT Communications will “also continue to strengthen NTT Com’s three business pillars – digital transformation (DX), green transformation (GX), and customer experience (CX) – in 2024,” he added. 

NTT Docomo has officially launched its new business venture with financial brokerage services specialist Monex, which was initially announced at the beginning of October 2023 when Docomo invested 50bn Japanese yen ($335m) in a 49.05% stake in a new joint venture with the fintech firm. The new business provides a digital platform for investors to manage their financial assets and portfolios and is part of Docomo’s ‘Changing the World with You’ strategy that, in terms of enabling a “smart life” for its customers, involves expanding its efforts in the financial services and payments sector.

Fair play for Fair Isle… Located halfway between Orkney and Shetland and just three miles long by one and a half miles wide, Fair Isle is the most geographically remote inhabited island in the UK. It has a population of just 60 people and most of them work in agriculture, fishing, textile design and production (the world famous – and expensive – Fair Isle traditional knitwear) and limited summer tourism. The island is not part of the UK’s electricity grid and generates its own power. However, while much of mainland Scotland continues to wait for full-fibre connectivity, Fair Isle recently got it – a full two years earlier than planned. Suddenly the island has faster broadband speeds than some Scottish mainland cities. Technicians from Openreach, BT’s quasi-autonomous access network wholesale division, managed, in what is claimed to be a “world first” in telecom engineering, to run a spur to Fair Isle from the 68-mile long submarine cable that links Orkney and Shetland and install a “super-booster” repeater to increase signal strength to gigabit rates. As Fraser Rowberry, Openreach’s chief engineer for Scotland, said, “Regular fibre signals just couldn’t go the distance, so we had to get creative with some world-first engineering to transmit life-changing ultrafast broadband over 100km to islanders.”  BT says the project covers the greatest distance that Openreach has ever transmitted a continuous full-fibre signal anywhere in the British Isles. The Fair Isle connection was paid for using part of a £400m Scottish government contract dedicated to bringing broadband connectivity to remote parts of Scotland. 

It makes a change to receive a research report that, for once, isn’t from one of the world’s big analyst houses. The Most Popular Phone Brands in Every Country in 2023 comes from John’s Phone, a web portal that focuses on the mobile market and provides reviews and rating of mobile apps, smartphones, tablets, headphones, and other comms gadgets. According to John’s Phone, its team analysed real-time mobile usage data to determine which smartphone brands had been used the most by people in 65 different markets around the world. The upshot is that while the usual suspects, such as Apple and Samsung, continue to dominate, particularly in the west, Chinese-made smartphones (such as those from Huawei and Oppo) are increasingly popular in Africa, certain Asian countries and Russia (most recently and evidently primarily due to the economic sanctions imposed as a result of the illegal invasion of Ukraine). The John’s Phone report shows that Apple was the most popular smartphone brand in the 12 months to October 2023 with a 28.4% market share across the 65 markets covered by the research. Meanwhile, Samsung recorded a market share of 28.2%, followed by Xiaomi (12.7%), Oppo (5.5%), Huawei (5.3%), Vivo (4.3%), Realme (3.2%), and Motorola (2.3%). The report shows that Apple remained the top smartphone brand in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, the UK and most of western Europe, while Samsung leads the list in its home market of South Korea, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Mexico and Poland. In the immense Indian market (India outstripped China as the world’s most populous country in April of 2023) the most popular smartphone brand last year was Xiaomi of China. Interestingly, Xiaomi also beats both Apple and Samsung as the most popular brand of smartphone in Greece and Spain. David Lee, smartphone markets analyst at John’s Phone, commented, “Despite the rise of Chinese electronics and smartphone companies, most of the world still prefers iPhones and Galaxies, which are viewed as safer, more reliable, and ultimately, of much higher quality than Chinese tech. Market leaders such as Apple keep designing cutting-edge chips, introducing innovative features and using quality materials in manufacturing. Most of all, Chinese brands may be affordable but they lack brand recognition and trust, at least in western markets”. That says it all really. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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