There’s a possible pattern developing in the hyper-competitive Indian mobile services market: significant losses or declining net profits just as huge amounts of capital will have to be spent to re-acquire or get new spectrum.

That situation–huge capital requirements coming at a time when profits are pinched–is not unusual. What is a bit unusual is that the potentially-developing capital stringency comes at a time when unusually-large amounts of spectrum are to be auctioned by the Indian government.

That raises the potential for unwelcome increases in debt loads, less-robust purchases of spectrum and a potentially-significant possibility of additional market entry by U.K. and U.S. firms.

Tata Communications reported a loss in its most-recent quarter, despite a gain of nearly seven percent in operating income.

Vodafone India operating profit was up four percent, but that figure is before deductions for capital investment, depreciation, taxes and interest. Though Vodafone India does not report net overall profit and loss, the four percent operating profit suggests Vodafone India might have lost money, on a consolidated basis.

Meanwhile, analysts at Morgan Stanley have lowered revenue expectations for the rest of the year and through 2018 by three percent.

Bharti Airtel net profit fell 22 percent in its third quarter of 2015, as did Idea Cellular. Over the past year, net profits have fallen by an order of magnitude (10 times), though Airtel did boost profits in the first quarter of 2016.

Reliance Communications, meanwhile, has seen dips in revenue from domestic telecom operations in recent quarters.

 

That combination of slim profits–despite account growth–and big upcoming capital requirements will be stressful, especially in terms of increasing debt loads.  

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile service provider, saw, net debt jump by more than $1 billion to almost $12 billion in just three months in 2015.

Bharti also spent 98 percent more on capital expenditure over the past four quarters than it did in the 2014 financial year.

Pressure will mount as all major Indian mobile service providers have to invest to meet the challenge from Reliance Jio, entering the market this year, and must spend to re-acquire mobile spectrum licenses this year, as well.