AT&T makes another attempt to enter India

AT&T's third in their two-decade long pursuit to get a piece of India's telecom market.

For more than a decade, AT&T has been trying to enter the Indian market only to see several bumps along the road. Back in the 1990s, AT&T invested in Grasim Industries' (part of the Birla Group) Birla Communications to form Birla AT&T Communications. The dynamics of the aprtnership later changed when the Birlas & Tatas decided to join hands. AT&T then exited the Birla-Tata-AT&T joint venture in 2005. (Not long afte that, Tatas exited too to start their own service.)

After their failed marriage, rumors circulated about AT&T's investment in state-owned BSNL. That of course never happened. AT&T did however, buy stake in Tech Mahindra--an IT oursourcing company that has some telecom offerings in its portfolio. Surprsingly, AT&T sold its stake a month later.

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Hoping that third time's a charm, AT&T and Mukesh Ambani are expected to form an alliance. According to reports, AT&T will be investing in the elder Ambani's Reliance Infotel, now known as Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJIL). AT&T is expected to contribute close to $3.5 Billion for a 25% stake in the company. Over the next 3 years, Mukesh Ambani plans to invest close to $6 Billion to establish the service in addition to the $4 Billion so far in readying the infrastructure. RJIL will deploy around 100,000 towers each costing 100,000 INR are being made by a company that Mukesh Ambani has invested in.

RJIL is the only company to have a pan-India 4G license (BWA). And the elder Ambani plans to make leverage this against competitors. As it turns out, the government allowed BWA license owners to offer VoIP services for an additional cost of $305 Million.

Long story short:

  • Mukesh Ambani bought a company that got a pan-India BWA license
  • Mukesh Ambani invested in a telecom tower manufacturer
  • The government allowed BWA license owners to offer voice services

AT&T's timeline in India:

  • AT&T forms an alliance with Birla Group
  • TATAs, Birlas and AT&T form a joint venture
  • Tata exits, followed by AT&T's exit
  • AT&T acquires and sells stake in Tech Mahindra
  • AT&T to invest in Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio Infocomm