Data boom seen once 4G entrants go commercial: HSBC

Mumbai: At 18 GB per month, the data consumption per month among the customers of new entrants in the 4G telecom space is 20 times what some existing players have been able to draw, and suggests a boom ahead in the coming months, the latest HSBC research report says. Without naming the new entrants -- but presumably Reliance Jio that has thus far only conducted a soft launch -- the report says their level of customer data consumption against 843 MB for Bharti Airtel and Idea's estimate of 1 GB tells a completely different story. "The 4G entrants are not charging for data today. Hence, there is a good possibility consumption may decline sharply once they charge. Nevertheless, the effort seems to highlight that appetite for data does exist," says the report, titled, "Indian Telecoms: The Big Debate -- Data Usage". This apart, it adds, the emphasis of 4G entrants on data capacity, content and live TV streaming services suggests the focus seems to be the medium-to-high end market, potentially resulting in consumption that is much higher than the present sectoral average of around 475 MB. The report also seeks to predict the commercial launch date of new entrants with one factor being the integration of 800 MHz spectrum (Reliance Jio and Reliance Communications have an agreement for this), which could take three-four months. "An additional consideration is the likely expansion of the LTE handset space, which is estimated at 60 million at present. Once this market reaches 100-120 million, there should be sufficient room for 4G entrants to announce commercial launches." With much of the success of 4G dependent on handsets, the report says smartphone penetration is expected to increase from the present 29 per cent or 240 million subscribers to 39 per cent by end of 2017-18.  "We also estimate 3G/4G subscribers to almost double to 240 million from the present 120 million and overall data subsribers at 370 million. We see average consumption for the sector at 1.5 GB by 2019-20 and average sector data revenue per user at Rs 175," it said. While the report does not assume live TV streaming and significant video consumption to be a mass market phenomenon, with subscribers unwilling to pay an additional Rs 100 to Rs 150 per month for that, it feels packaging and positioning could create major upsides on consumption and revenues. What could be the possible impact of new entrants getting into a commercial mode? The report says while incumbents will try hard not to lose the middle-to-higher end user base, as it is a profitable subset, they lack data coverage capacity and presence in a few markets. Here, the report adds, the next spectrum auction, in September-October could prove useful. It also predicts consolidation at the lower end of the market and says: "Even if 4G entrants were to get some share of the middle-to-high end of the market, they have an offset coming from the likely exit by the smaller entrants." As regards the 700 MHz spectrum, seen as the best band for data, the report says there are select markets in which their pricing is at par or even cheaper than 900 MHz, which incumbents may look at. "But there is a risk that incumbents may overspend and, in turn, add to their leverage."