TELCOs – Kim Eng

SingTel Crimps The Data Pipe Further

Step forward for telcos. SingTel’s decision to cut data caps for smartphones is a big step toward better data monetisation opportunities for Singapore telcos. That said, the short-term impact will be minimal as the majority of 3G data users do not exceed 2GB of data a month. Over time however, it will encourage more data usage, especially on the video front, and this should lead users to adopt LTE as well as upgrade their plans, thus benefiting the telcos’ data revenue and margins. We retain our BUY calls on StarHub and M1, and SELL on SingTel.

SingTel reins in generous data caps. SingTel’s new 4G plans were significant not because it is the first telco to launch 4G smartphone plans, but because it has slashed data caps for both its 3G and 4G plans. From a two-tiered 12GB and 30GB (although not unlimited, these caps were still very generous), SingTel now offers four tiers of 2GB, 3GB, 4GB and 12GB. Monthly subscription prices have remained the same but SingTel has also increased the number of bundled SMS.

StarHub and M1 likely to follow suit. Now that the giant has stepped forward to lead the way, the other telcos are likely to follow. According to the media, StarHub will soon cut its single-tier 12GB smartphone and iPhone plans to tiers of 1GB, 2GB and 5GB to match its Multi-SIM plans for tablets and mobile phones. Similarly with M1, although it has said it will only unveil its plans in 2H12. Also, we think both smaller telcos will take the opportunity to do away with their unlimited plans.

Churn could rise in rush to lock in larger data caps. SingTel’s churn rate could rise in 3Q12, as its out-of-contract subscribers may switch to the other two telcos to lock in their still-generous data caps for another two years. This is especially so if StarHub and M1 hold off on dumping their higher data caps for a couple more months. We reckon this is probably why StarHub warned it would also be cutting caps soon but provided no other details.

Gradual adoption. The decision to cut down on data caps should be positive for ARPUs further out but the short-term impact will likely be minimal as the majority of data users do not exceed 2GB of data a month. Over time, more 4G handsets will become available, and the faster speeds will encourage more data usage and prompt users to upgrade their plans, thus benefiting data revenue. Higher adoption of tablets will also drive more data usage. More importantly, data margins will also benefit.

Prefer StarHub and M1 to SingTel. This development does not change our calls, which stand at BUY on StarHub and M1 and SELL on SingTel. We still like StarHub and M1 for their attractive yields of about 6%. In fact, StarHub’s yield could get more attractive as we believe its balance sheet can support a higher regular dividend. While the cut in data caps will benefit its domestic business, SingTel faces significant risks from overseas, particularly on the currency and regulatory fronts.

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