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Adani’s 5G play reminds Jefferies of Ambani’s 2010 telecom entry

Gautam Adani’s plan to bid for 5G airwaves is possibly a larger telecommunications play by Asia’s richest person, according to analysts at Jefferies Financial Group Inc., who see “uncanny similarities” with fellow billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s low-key, re-entry into telecom in 2010 that eventually created India’s biggest wireless operator.

The Adani Group, which is seeking to build its own digital platform, superapp and data centers, said in a statement Saturday that it’s participating in India’s 5G spectrum auction to provide private network solutions for its various business and will not be entering the consumer mobility space.

However, to achieve that, Adani could have chosen to buy a Captive Non-Public Network permit, which doesn’t allow commercial services and has no entry or license fees. But it chose the more expensive auction route instead, signaling its future ambitions to Jefferies analysts Akshat Agarwal and Ankur Pant.

“Given that the Adani Group has chosen to buy spectrum through auctions, it may still be able to offer commercial services by applying for a unified access license in the future,” they wrote in a note dated July 10.

Other brokerages are also intrigued by Adani’s game plan. Mumbai-based Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd. in a note alluded to an ambitious “consumer bent” within the group, while CLSA wondered why Adani had chosen the auction path. BofA Securities analysts, led by Sachin Salgaonkar, see a business case for a player catering to enterprises only, possibly using millimeter wave technology.

Reliance Industries Ltd. spooked India’s telecom market in 2010 by acquiring spectrum that wasn’t permitted to be used for voice services initially but a spate of policy changes in the ensuing years, allowed usage and paved the way for the company to eventually topple the incumbents, including Bharti Airtel Ltd.

Telecom stocks in India were mostly lower on Monday. Bharti Airtel fell 5%, its biggest single-day plunge since Sept. 23, 2020 while Reliance Industries erased early losses to rise 1.4%. Bloomberg

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