Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio are the only two telecom operators who are making money in the Indian market among all the telcos. Well, there aren't really too many players. The only ones which are not making profits are Vodafone Idea (Vi) and BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited). BSNL is a state-run telecom operator, while Vodafone Idea is a private company. This makes Vi the only telecom operator which is private and isn't making money. That's a rough spot to be in. Because the telecom business requires huge investments continuously in the infrastructure to deploy new generation technologies, the company that isn't making money or doesn't have money will get severely left behind. In this case, that company is Vodafone Idea. Airtel and Jio are regular with the profits and have free cash flows to invest and deleverage at the same time.
5G Gains for Airtel and Jio will Come at Vi's Expensive
With 5G, history will repeat itself for Airtel, Jio and Vi. Again, Vi won't have as much money and resources, and again, Airtel and Jio would gain customers at its expense. Already, many customers are leaving Vi's networks to join Airtel and Jio's networks. This would only be more evident in the 5G era.
Vi doesn't even have the funds to fuel capex for both 5G and 4G. Vodafone Idea is making ends meet anyhow it can. But recently, it prepaid a Rs 2700 crore loan to the State Bank of India (SBI). This prepayment was to gain the confidence of the lenders. It would be interesting to see if it made any difference. The telco is in talks with several banks to arrange funds for 5G equipment.
At the same time, Airtel and Jio are already laying the infrastructure to deploy 5G. Jio has already announced the name of the cities it would bring 5G to. Jio's 5G network launch would come in four cities initially - Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Kolkata.
Airtel would also be launching commercial 5G network services around October 2022. It is only Vi which has not said anything about the 5G launch timeline yet. It is also worth factoring in that when the 5G expansion is concerned, Jio and Airtel would be much faster due to the free flow of funds than Vodafone Idea. This would mean that Vi customers would need to switch to Jio or Airtel if they need 5G.