South Asian Insider
From a prized jewel to a fallen star
The collapse of Reliance Communications (Insider Bureru)- The collapse of Reliance Communications (RCom) marks a complete fall in flamboyant Anil Ambani's fortune as the 'prized family jewel' - that he inherited as part of a family settlement with elder brother Mukesh - comes to haunt him nearly 15 years after the Ambanis' mega expansion into the telecom business. While Anil always viewed the telecom business as the next frontier for growth, after losing the lucrative oil and gas operations in the family settlement, heavy investments and stiff competition made it an uphill task for him to realise his dreams. And with debts mounting by the day - it is estimated at nearly Rs 47,000 crore now - the final death knell was sounded when Mukesh made a re-entry into the telecom arena (in September 2016) with free services under the Reliance Jio banner. The debt proved too daunting even for the ambitious Anil, once touted as the financial wizard of the combined Reliance Group. In between the family handover and the collapse, there were many failed deals that led to the unprecedented fall in Anil's fortune. As he began aggressive expansion of the business after getting RCom in 2005 and listing it on the bourses in 2006, the challenging nature of the telecom sector and its need for heavy investments started hitting home. Rs 23k crore deal to sell telecom assets to Mukesh has failed, Anil Ambani tells SC About thirteen months after Anil Ambani announced, on his father Dhirubhai's 85th birthday, the sale of his debt-ridden Reliance Communications' telecom. assets to elder brother Mukesh's Reliance Jio for an estimated Rs 23,000 crore, he told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the deal has fallen through despite its best efforts.The market was shifting from 2G voice, and then to data and internet-heavy 3G and 4G, requiring heavy investments in telecom equipment and also in spectrum purchases. In between all this, Anil also had to fight off the so-called GSM lobby that comprised the combined might of Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. The pressures of a high-pitched battle and aggressive investments started showing on the company, which eventually spun off into a debt pile-up from which he could never manage to recover. Failed deals were surely a part of the saga, which included the collapsed Rs 50,000-crore telecom infra deal with GTL Infra in 2010. Undeterred at that time, Anil continued to make investments in 3G, under-sea cable and network expansion. Anil Ambani has money for Rafale, not for us: Ericsson Pressing on its move for contempt proceedings against Anil Ambani for Reliance Communication's default in making payment of Rs 550 crore, Swedish telecom company Ericsson rejected the industrialist's plea of fund crunch as an excuse claiming that his group had made enough profit to invest in the Rafale deal. But with his services never really making a cut with the high-paying mobile users, Anil was never really seen as a strong challenger by his competitors. The saga of failed deals continued and the most notable was the collapse of the merger deal with Aircel in 2017, just when RCom (like other telecom operators) was coming to terms with the highly-aggressive re-entry of Mukesh into the business. The collapse of the Aircel deal, that RCom blamed on "inordinate delays" caused by "legal and regulatory uncertainties and various interventions by vested interests", also led to the failure of a nearcompleted tower sale deal with Canadian infra company Brookfield. With no Aircel deal, Brookfield found it wiser to back off, giving a death blow to RCom. Soon after, RCom announced closure of 2G and 3G mobile business, shaving off over 75% of an estimated 80 million customers. As it shifted focus on the enterprise business, the debt resolution process became harder as lenders started approaching court for recovery. The most notable of these included Sweden's Ericsson, which accused Anil and RCom of deliberate and wilful default in payment of Rs 550 crore, which it had scaled down from the original Rs 1,600 crore. The courtroom battle and the failure to realise a deal with Mukesh saw the company's stocks being hammered. It closed the day at Rs 5.62, a far cry from the high of Rs 821 reached on January 9, 2008.
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