Here’s a question for you. When is a tech company a telco? In light of the recent flurry of investment activity in India you have to wonder.
Jio Platforms seems to be ahead in the race to soak up tech company cash, with Facebook leading the way but others hard on its heels. Not to be outdone, Amazon observers report that the company is eying up an investment in Bharti Airtel. And last but not least, Google looks as if it will grab a stake in Vodafone Idea. Apparently Alphabet missed out on the opportunity with Jio Platforms (the story of which, via Fortune, is worth a read).
It could be – and some observers would argue this strongly – that China is now simply too difficult to do business in, while India is easier to get to grips with, even with its rules about local ownership. Bear in mind, too, that economies such as Malaysia are looking forward to big boosts, as manufacturing and supply chains move there from China.
Some of the investments are easy to explain. Facebook has always had its eye on India, as part of Mr Zuckberg’s plan to get everyone online, via Facebook. And then sell them things or sell their data to let others sell them things.
Is it, though, that the tech giants (whose values are increasing during the pandemic) have been playing a waiting game? Have they been waiting for the moment when telco networks are really digital platforms, from which they can easily launch a host of services?
If this is the case, then we might, finally, have reached a point in our digital transformation journey that is ‘good enough’ for tech companies to invest in, not just use?
It will be interesting to watch what happens in other economies or whether India has a unique set of parameters that has attracted the tech companies.
The other issue is whether this kind of investment activity from tech companies triggers a real curbing of their power. The voices lobbying for the break up or increased scrutiny of companies close to becoming monopolies are growing. Even Elon Musk has taken to Twitter to demand the break-up of Amazon, saying ‘monopolies are bad’. Sadly, Jeff Bezos did not reply that breaking up Mr Musk was a good thing, which would have another amusing Twitter fight to watch.
Whatever the reason for this quite sudden interest in Indian telcos, it is really beginning to look as if a tech company can be a telco.