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Complete Guide to the Indian Telecom Sector and Top Telecom Stocks in India

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Examine significant growth of 5G technology globally and its impact on India's telecom sector in 2023 & 2024. Substantial increase in mobile subscriptions, India's major contributions to this growth, and the strategic initiatives in the Union Budget 2023 aimed at enhancing the telecom infrastructure - have helped boost the Indian Telecom Sector. Find Top Telecom Stocks in India today.

As of Q2 2023, the worldwide adoption of 5G technology has reached close to 1.3 billion subscriptions, signifying a pivotal moment in connectivity technology. The Indian telecom sector stands at a crucial juncture in its evolution, reflecting the broader global trends and developments in the telecommunications industry. With 5G making its mark worldwide, and mobile subscriptions reaching unprecedented heights, it is imperative to comprehend the dynamic landscape and its implications for India.

Key Highlights:

  • The number of mobile subscriptions globally stands at a remarkable 8.3 billion, with a net addition of 40 million subscriptions during the quarter, highlighting the ever-expanding reach of mobile technology.
  • In this growth story, India has played a significant role, contributing the most net additions during the quarter, with 7 million, followed by China with 5 million and the United States with 3 million.
  • Globally, mobile subscription penetration has reached 105 percent, emphasizing the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology in our lives.
  • Mobile broadband subscriptions have grown by about 100 million in the quarter, now totaling 7.4 billion and accounting for a substantial 88 percent of all mobile subscriptions.
  • The distinction between subscriptions and unique subscribers, attributed to various factors, has brought the number of unique mobile subscribers to 6.1 billion.
  • 4G subscriptions have increased by 11 million, totaling around 5.2 billion, representing 62 percent of all mobile subscriptions. Meanwhile, other technologies have experienced fluctuations.
  • With 7 million net additions, India has played a significant role in shaping the global telecom landscape, and this guide aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the Indian telecom sector in this context.
  • With mobile network data traffic growing by 33 percent between Q2 2022 and Q2 2023, reaching 134 EB per month, India’s position in managing this burgeoning data traffic is a critical aspect to consider.

In light of these developments, this Complete Guide to the Indian Telecom Sector aims to explore how India is poised to adapt to the changing environment, address the unique challenges of delivering connectivity to its diverse population, and leverage the opportunities presented by this evolving landscape. We will also take a look at the top stocks in the Telecom Sector. Let’s get started!

A Snapshot of the Telecom Sector in Union Budget 2023

The Union Budget for 2023 has unveiled an ambitious plan to harness the potential of 5G technology in India, with the government announcing the establishment of 100 laboratories in engineering institutions dedicated to developing applications that leverage 5G services. These state-of-the-art labs will explore a diverse range of applications, including smart classrooms, precision farming, intelligent transport systems, and healthcare solutions. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister, has emphasized the importance of these initiatives in creating employment opportunities and unlocking new business prospects.

The Union Budget allocated a substantial ₹1.23-lakh crore for postal and telecom projects. A significant portion of this allocation, ₹1,52,937 crore, will be infused into the state-run BSNL, underlining the government’s commitment to strengthening the telecom infrastructure. The allocation also encompasses ₹97,579.05 crore for the Department of Telecommunications and ₹25,814 crore for postal projects, signaling a strategic focus on enhancing the nation’s digital connectivity.

Here’s a detailed insight:

  1. 5G Application Development Labs: The Union Budget allocates resources for establishing 100 labs in engineering institutions to develop applications utilizing 5G technology. These labs will play a pivotal role in exploring opportunities across diverse sectors, including smart classrooms, precision farming, intelligent transport systems, and healthcare applications. This signifies a significant step towards leveraging the potential of 5G for various use cases.
  1. Telecom Budget Allocation: The Budget for the telecommunication sector in 2023-2024 stands at INR 97,579.05 crores. However, industry expectations may not entirely align with this allocation, as regulatory levies such as license fees have not been reduced, which has raised concerns within the industry.
  1. Optical Fiber Cable for Defense Services: The government has notably increased its allocation for optical fiber cable-based networks for defense services, with over INR 2 crores designated for this purpose. This investment underscores the commitment to enhancing the telecommunications infrastructure for defense-related operations.
  1. Telecom Research and Development: The Centre for Development of Telematics, the research and development wing of the telecom department, receives an allocation of INR 550 crores, signaling a significant increase from the previous budget. This investment is expected to drive advancements and innovation within the telecom sector.
  1. Industry Expectations: Industry experts hope that concerns related to regulatory levies, basic customs duty on telecom equipment, contributions to the universal service obligation fund (USOF), and other regulatory issues will be addressed over the course of the year. These concerns highlight the industry’s call for a more favorable regulatory environment to facilitate growth and innovation in the telecom sector.

The initiatives unveiled in the Union Budget, including the 5G labs and investment in telecom infrastructure, hold the potential to not only spur innovation and job creation but also position India as a significant player in the global telecommunications landscape. The focus on talent development, skill enhancement, and technological self-reliance underscores the government’s commitment to transforming the Indian telecom sector and fostering growth in related industries, making the future outlook promising.

Major Developments in the Indian Telecom Sector in 2023

The Indian telecom industry is undergoing a significant transformation, driven by various technological advancements and market dynamics. With a rapidly expanding network and a subscriber base of over 1.1 billion, India stands as one of the world’s largest telecommunications markets. Several key developments are shaping the industry in 2023.

1. Enhanced Mobile Download Speeds:

One of the notable developments in the Indian telecom sector is the improvement in mobile download speeds. This improvement is attributed to the rollout of 5G and the expansion of 4G networks. In just one year, the median mobile download speed in India increased from 14.39 Mbps to 18.26 Mbps, reflecting the country’s commitment to providing faster and more reliable connectivity.

2. Rapid 5G Rollout:

Telecom operators in India are prioritizing the commercialization of 5G in 2023. Both Airtel and Jio are actively rolling out 5G networks to cover the entire nation swiftly. This aligns with the growing consumer interest in 5G, with 48% of respondents expressing their readiness to upgrade to 5G as soon as it becomes available in their area. 5G presents not only speed improvements but also the potential for innovative applications across various sectors.

3. Satellite Communications (Satcom):

Satcom is poised to disrupt the Indian telecom landscape in 2023. Jio Satellite Communications Ltd and OneWeb have received licenses to offer satellite broadband services, aiming to provide connectivity to remote areas where fixed broadband connections are limited. India’s National Broadband Mission recognizes satellite technology as an essential component to extend broadband connectivity throughout the country. This development has the potential to bridge the digital divide and connect underserved populations.

4. 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA):

5G Fixed Wireless Access is gaining attention in India, following its success in various global markets. This technology promises high-speed wireless internet access for both residential and business users. As 5G technology matures, it will revolutionize how we use technology and communicate, presenting new opportunities for communication service providers and businesses.

5. Hyper-Scalers and Cloud Computing:

The rise of hyper-scalers in cloud computing is a notable trend. Cloud computing has gained immense popularity, especially in response to the global pandemic. With the global hyper-scale cloud market estimated to reach significant figures by 2026, it is a transformative technology that telecom operators should closely monitor. Hyper-scalers are becoming increasingly relevant for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing markets, providing cost-effective solutions and addressing data security and digitization challenges.

All in all, 2023 marks a pivotal year for the Indian telecom industry, with these key developments driving a technological revolution, digital transformation, improved quality of service, and the creation of new revenue opportunities.

Why the Telecom Sector is Performing Well in India

The Indian telecom sector’s exceptional performance can be attributed to several key factors. One of the pivotal achievements is the substantial reduction in mobile data tariffs, symbolizing India’s commitment to affordability and accessibility. The journey from Rs 269 per GB in 2014 to a mere Rs 10.1 per GB in 2023 is a testament to this commitment. This dramatic reduction in costs has not only empowered Indian citizens but also resulted in significant savings for families across the nation.

Moreover, India’s rapid strides in 5G technology are another critical aspect contributing to the sector’s success. The nation has achieved the fastest rollout of 5G services worldwide, covering more than 700 districts. This progress underscores India’s dedication to staying at the forefront of technological innovation. The Prime Minister’s vision for India’s telecom sector extends beyond 5G, as he introduced the ‘Bharat 6G Alliance,’ a dedicated task force aimed at propelling India to lead the world in 6G technology. This ambitious endeavor solidifies India’s position as a technological powerhouse with a forward-looking approach.

The average time for approving Right of Way (RoW) approvals has reduced from 230 days to just nine days on average, showcasing the government’s commitment to streamlining regulatory processes. Additionally, the number of base transceiver stations (BTSs) has grown from 6 lakhs to 25 lakhs today, signifying a massive expansion in network infrastructure. India’s 4G footprint now extends close to 99% of the country, with the remaining areas set to achieve 100% coverage thanks to a significant investment of about Rs 38,000 crore.

Furthermore, India’s telecom sector is making remarkable progress in the realm of 5G technology. A total of 2.70 lakh 5G towers have been deployed in India, and the country is witnessing the deployment of a 5G tower per hour, underscoring India’s rapid strides in becoming one of the top three 5G ecosystems globally. In just nine months, India has outpaced many other countries in the 5G arena, with only a few nations competing at a similar pace.

The telecom sector’s success is not just about technological advancements but also about making digital services accessible and affordable for all, ensuring that every Indian can reap the benefits of the digital era. India’s telecom sector’s performance is a testament to the nation’s commitment to progress, innovation, and inclusive growth.

Top Reasons to Invest in Indian Telecom Stocks

1. The ICRA Anticipates a 7-9% Revenue Growth for Telcos:

The telecom services industry is expected to report moderate revenue growth of 7-9% year-on-year in 2023-24. This projection indicates a steady but not significant increase in industry revenues.

  • The revenue growth is attributed to muted average revenue per user (ARPU) expansion. This suggests that the growth in revenue is not driven by higher charges to individual users but rather through other avenues.
  • Telecom firms are actively expanding their 5G coverage, which is contributing to the high capital expenditure (capex) levels in the industry. The expansion of 5G networks is a strategic focus for the industry.
  • As a consequence of the high capex required for 5G expansion, the industry is expected to maintain elevated debt levels. The estimated debt levels are in the range of ₹6.1-6.2 lakh crore as of March 2024. These debt levels reflect the substantial financial investment required for network infrastructure and technological advancements.

2. Anticipated 15-17% Growth in Telecom Sector’s EBITDA for the Current Fiscal Year:

Indian telecommunications companies (telcos) are expected to increase their operating profits (EBITDA) by 15-17% to reach approximately Rs. 1.2 lakh crore in the current fiscal year. This is a substantial rise from about Rs. 1.04 lakh crore in the previous fiscal.

  • The telecommunications sector benefits from high operating leverage, with increased Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) directly contributing to operating profit.
  • ARPU is projected to grow by 8-10% year-on-year to approximately Rs. 190 in the current fiscal year due to increased data usage and tariff plan adjustments.
  • Despite limited monetization of 5G services, the sector is expected to witness a 15-17% increase in operating profit to around Rs. 1.2 lakh crore, with 4G technology remaining dominant.
  • Telcos are set to invest approximately Rs. 90,000 crore this fiscal to enhance network infrastructure and services, compared to around Rs. 80,000 crore in the previous fiscal.

3. Significant Central Government Investment in the Growth of the Telecom Sector:

Telecom-related technologies in India are set to undergo significant changes in the coming years, presenting opportunities for market players.

  • The government is investing in and expanding the market capitalization of the telecom sector, with a focus on growing the digital economy.
  • India has seen rapid deployment of 5G technology, with over 700 districts having 5G coverage and a vision and roadmap for 6G.
  • The telecom sector has reduced dependency on imported equipment, with 100% of telecom gear now being made in India and even exported to North America.
  • The government is investing in technology infrastructure and reshaping key legislation in the technology and telecom sectors.

What’s Defining the Telecom Sector in the Indian Stock Market?

1. The Draft Indian Telecommunications Bill and Postal Services Bill:

The Union Cabinet has reportedly cleared the Draft Indian Telecommunications Bill and the Postal Services Bill, 2023. The Draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, aims to expand the scope of telecommunication services to include OTT (Over-The-Top), internet-based, and satellite-based communication services, broadcasting, internet, and broadband services. This proposal has raised concerns among social media and technology companies, particularly in the messaging space, as it may lead to the regulation of OTT communication apps.

  • The government has assured that it intends to implement “light-touch regulation” and is primarily focused on safeguarding users, ensuring safety, and building online trust.
  • The bill seeks to replace three existing acts: the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933; and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
  • The initial draft of the bill had proposed to curtail or dilute the powers of Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), but it is likely to exclude these provisions in its final version.
  • The bill aims to improve consumer protection from spam and fraudulent calls and seeks to become an umbrella legislation covering all forms of communication and carriage of voice and data.
  • The bill allows for spectrum allocation through auctions, administrative processes, or other mechanisms decided by the government.
  • The Postal Services Bill, 2023, focuses on revamping the postal department and its key services, including parcel services that can compete with private players. It also aims to enhance financial services for rural areas through postal services.
  • These bills are expected to be taken to Parliament for approval during the ongoing monsoon session.

2. Vodafone Idea’s Payment to the Government:

Vodafone Idea (Vi) has made a payment of approximately Rs 1,701 crore, including interest, to the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India, as part of the 2022 Spectrum Auction Instalment.

  • This payment covers dues for the 5G spectrum and other spectrum acquired in the past.
  • Vi had also cleared pending dues of license fees and spectrum usage charges, totaling about ₹450 crore, for the March quarter of 2022-23.
  • The annual instalment for Vi stands at around ₹16,000 crore, while the company’s current annualized EBITDA for India operations is approximately ₹10,000 crore.
  • The Union Cabinet had approved a relief package for the telecom sector in 2021, offering companies a four-year break from paying statutory dues, permission to share airwaves, changes in revenue definitions for levies, and 100% foreign investment through the automatic route. This relief package aimed to assist companies like Vodafone Idea, which had substantial unprovisioned statutory dues to pay.

3. Trai’s Proposal to Reduce Entry Fees and Rationalize Bank Guarantees:

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is proposing a reduction in the entry fee for various licenses and services in the Indian telecom market. The entry fee is non-refundable and varies with the type of service, such as ₹15 crore for a unified license and ₹7.5 crore for a virtual network operator.

  • Trai suggests a 50% reduction in the entry fee to encourage more companies to enter the market, enhancing competition and balancing the entry cost for players.
  • The move comes as the telecom market has seen a decline in the number of service providers, with the aim of improving competition and service quality.
  • In the past, entry fees for specific licenses, like national long distance and international long distance, were reduced to promote growth and competition.
  • Trai proposes significant reductions in entry fees for various licenses, including UL, NLD, ILD, public mobile radio trunking service, ISP “B” license, ISP “A” license, and UL (VNO) authorizations for access service.
  • The proposal includes rationalizing bank guarantees, merging financial and performance guarantees to encourage ease of doing business.
  • For a unified license, a total of ₹44 crore is proposed for the first year, with higher amounts in subsequent years or 20% of the estimated sum payable.
  • Trai recommends the use of electronic bank guarantees to enhance the ease of doing business in the sector.

4. Telecom Tariff Hikes and Market Share:

Telecom companies in India are in need of tariff hikes to boost growth, but stiff competition in the industry is likely causing delays in implementing these increases. Analysts expect that tariff hikes will come into effect after the fiscal year 2024 (FY24). Until then, market consolidation in terms of market share gains is expected to continue. Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio are the key beneficiaries in this competitive landscape.

  • Vodafone Idea’s ongoing struggles to raise capital for growth are favorable for other telecom companies, especially in terms of subscriber additions.
  • According to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for June, Jio and Bharti led net subscriber additions, growing by 3% and 6% year-on-year, respectively.
  • In contrast, Vodafone Idea continued to lose subscribers, with an 11% year-on-year decline in June.
  • Initiatives from Airtel and Jio, such as capital expenditure on deploying 5G services and introducing new broadband and postpaid plans, have helped them attract and retain customers.
  • Bharti has also taken price increases in its lower-end plans in recent quarters, contributing to its market share growth.
  • AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) data from the June quarter (Q1FY24) indicated a rise in Bharti’s market share to 36.8%, driven by an improvement in ARPU, while Jio’s market share remained steady at 41.2%.
  • In contrast, Vodafone Idea’s market share fell to 16.1% in terms of AGR.
  • The telecom industry has seen minor improvements in ARPU, driven by enhanced subscriber mix and the focus on premium services as customers transition from 2G to 4G.
  • All three major telcos (Bharti, Jio, and Vodafone Idea) witnessed sequential improvements in their respective revenue per users during Q1.
  • The market is expected to evolve into an effective duopoly between Bharti and Jio as 5G becomes more mainstream, with the launch of Jio Bharat.
  • The industry awaits tariff hikes to improve overall financial health and profitability in the post-5G landscape.

Top Indian Telecom Stocks of 2023

1. Bharti Airtel Ltd.

Bharti Airtel Ltd stands at the forefront of India’s and Asia’s telecommunications landscape. With a presence in both India and Sri Lanka, the company has been a trailblazer in the nation’s telecom transformation, leveraging state-of-the-art technologies to deliver world-class services. Bharti Airtel operates through three strategic business units (SBUs): Mobile Services, Airtel Telemedia Services, and Enterprise Services. Its diverse range of offerings encompasses mobile services, high-speed broadband, Airtel PC secure, cutting-edge Digital TV, Airtel Net PC & IPTV, advanced Data and IP Solutions, on-the-go Email services, Calling Cards, Wireless Internet options via Data Card & USB Modem, and much more.

2. Indus Towers Limited

Indus Towers Limited, born from the fusion of Bharti Infratel Limited and Indus Towers, stands as a global telecom tower giant. Its mission is to enhance accessible communication by providing cost-effective, top-tier services, thus elevating network connectivity throughout the nation. With an impressive portfolio of over 175,510 towers and 318,310 co-locations, the company has a significant presence across 22 telecom circles. Notable clients of the company encompass major players such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea Limited.

3. Vodafone Idea

Vodafone Idea currently holds a prominent position among India’s top-tier telecom service providers, offering comprehensive services across 2G, 3G, and 4G platforms. Born from the amalgamation of two major telecom giants in India, Vodafone and Idea, the company’s formation marked a pivotal moment in the nation’s telecommunications landscape. This merger, which brought together the strengths and expertise of these telecom leaders, has significantly contributed to the company’s growth and its ability to cater to the diverse connectivity needs of Indian consumers. Vodafone Idea’s extensive network and services have played a vital role in transforming the telecom sector and shaping the digital future of the country.


HFCL is another one of the fastest-growing telecom companies in India. The company was established in 1987 and has headquarters in Gurugram. HFCL majorly is involved in fulfilling the infrastructure requirements of mobile service provider companies. With a primary focus on bolstering the telecommunications landscape, HFCL has carved a niche for itself by providing critical solutions and technologies that enable seamless mobile communication services.

5. Tata Teleservices

The company offers a diverse range of telecom services, including mobile, public telephone booths, fixed wireless phones (FWP), and wireline services. Their offerings span Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Web Conferencing services, leased lines, DSL, and Managed Gateway services. Notably, they target the Indian youth with Virgin Mobile branded services. Alongside their online store, ‘i-Choose,’ they’ve established True Value Shops for an extensive product and service showcase.

Key Considerations for Investing in Telecom Industry Stocks

Investing in the telecom industry requires careful consideration of various factors to make informed decisions. Here are crucial aspects to keep in mind:

  • Industry Trends: Stay updated on evolving industry trends, including technological advancements, shifts in consumer behavior, and regulatory changes. These factors can significantly influence the telecom sector’s performance.
  • Competition: The telecom sector is fiercely competitive. Assess the company you intend to invest in relative to its competitors. Analyze market share, pricing strategies, and the quality of network and services provided.
  • Financial Performance: Thoroughly examine the financial health of the telecom company. Evaluate aspects like revenue growth, profitability, and debt levels. Key financial ratios such as the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio and return on equity (ROE) provide insights into valuation and profitability.
  • Market Share: Consider the company’s market share and its historical evolution. A firm with a substantial and expanding market share is better poised for long-term success.
  • Capital Expenditures: The telecom industry demands substantial capital investments for network maintenance and upgrades. Analyze a company’s capital expenditure in relation to its revenue to gauge its commitment to network improvement.
  • Regulatory Environment: The telecom sector faces stringent regulations, and regulatory changes can significantly impact a company’s performance. Stay informed about evolving regulations and assess their potential effects on prospective investments.
  • Dividend Policy: Many telecom companies offer dividends to shareholders. Investigate the company’s dividend policy and historical dividend payouts before making investment decisions.

Future of Telecom in India

The future of the telecom industry in India is undergoing a significant transformation, driven by technological advancements and shifting trends. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic emphasized the critical role of connectivity, fostering collaboration, and enhancing organizational strength. As businesses globally embraced digital transformations in response to pandemic-induced situations, the importance of robust and reliable telecom networks became more evident.

Key trends are reshaping the telecom landscape in India. Firstly, 5G technology is at the forefront, offering substantially faster speeds and lower latency. The aggressive deployment and promotion of 5G by telecom companies aim to provide efficient networks. By 2026, India is expected to have 350 million 5G subscriptions, representing 27% of all mobile subscriptions. 5G’s enhanced capabilities are poised to unlock new opportunities and foster economic growth by expanding access to information and communication.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another game-changer, enabling real-time data analysis and automation. The global AI market in telecommunications is projected to grow from $1.2 billion in 2021 to $38.8 billion by 2031, with Asia-Pacific leading the way. AI-driven predictive analytics is helping telecoms deliver better services by leveraging data and machine learning for forecasting.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is essential as the number of internet-connected devices surges. It offers efficiency, agility, and the ability to monitor and connect various devices. The IoT market is expected to generate significant revenue by 2023, driven by widespread adoption and technological advancements.

Looking ahead, the Indian telecom market is set to expand significantly, with a projected CAGR of 11.2% by 2028. Factors such as increased end-user applications and the integration of cutting-edge technologies like IoT, cloud, AI, and 5G are driving this growth. The government’s allocation of substantial funds in the Union Budget demonstrates its commitment to revolutionizing the telecom industry, focusing on faster speeds, seamless communication, and improved customer service.

To sum up, India’s telecom sector is on the cusp of a new era of connectivity, innovation, and transformation, thanks to 5G, AI, IoT, and government support. These developments are poised to reshape the industry and drive economic growth in the country.

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Complete Guide to the Indian Telecom Sector and Top Telecom Stocks in India
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