"It (consolidation) is good for all the operators and if we can play a role in that we would be interested to play a role. We have balance sheet that is strong enough to do it if it's necessary," Vodafone India Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Martin Pieters said. (Agencies)
He said that India has room for only six telecom operators, including state-owned MTNL and BSNL, out of nine major mobile service providers operating as on date and the relaxation in M&A rules has "open up more possibilities" for consolidation in the industry.
"I think 4 to 5, may be if you include state operators then 6, is the maximum (number of operators) that this market can have. It means where we see nine today, major 3 to 4 (service providers) need to consolidate in one way or the other," he said.
Vodafone India, he said, plans to invest about Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 crore annually in short to medium term.
The government is considering a proposal to allow mergers that result in companies owing up to 50 percent of the market share instead of current cap of 35 percent.
"I think it has opened up more possibilities (for consolidation)," he said on the reported move.
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had previously stated that merger up to 35 percent market share of the resultant entity will be allowed through a simple and quick procedure but there may be a need to consider cases of merger beyond 35 percent.
Sector regulator TRAI has recommended combined upper cap of 60 percent market share on merged entity.
Pieters said that in the past for bigger operators it was virtually impossible to go for acquiring any company.
"With 50 percent, it would be possible to do something about bigger operator; may be not the biggest but bigger operator in general," he said.
He said that top three players in the sector, including his company, account for two-third of revenues in the industry and it will be tough for other to survive in rest of the business left out by them.
As per August subscribers data of TRAI, Vodafone has around 18 percent market share with over 154 million customers.
"In the past, people, though, saw consolidation would happen because everyone needed spectrum. The spectrum was scarce. We have seen 1800 Mhz auctions, how many people were buying like a mad man to get more spectrum. If I need 1800 (2G) spectrum I don't need to buy a guy," Pieters said.
Vodafone MD and CEO said most of the players in the sector have huge debt and acquiring them would lead to addition of debt on the company that acquires them.
"I can just wait for auction and buy it (spectrum) in the auction. It doesn't come with USD 6 to 7 billion debt, doesn't come with towers that I don't need, with staff that I don't need and it doesn't come with brand that I need to kill. Why would I buy a company if I only need spectrum? You must have other reason to buy a company," Pieters said.
Loaded with about USD 130 billion cash, Vodafone Plc is looking to raise its stake in Vodafone India to 100 percent from about 74 percent at present with investment of over USD 2 billion.
"It (consolidation) is good for all the operators and if we can play a role in that we would be interested to play a role. We have balance sheet that is strong enough to do it if it's necessary," Vodafone India Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Martin Pieters said.