NEW DELHI :
Indus Towers Ltd, India’s largest mobile tower company, plans to utilize its vast base of telecom towers to charge electric vehicles as part of a strategy to tap this fledgling industry and morph into an overall infrastructure provider.
The move will allow the company to secure a unique revenue stream outside the traditional model of renting out its towers to mobile phone operators. It would also help Indus Towers reduce dependence on the troubled domestic telecom sector.
The telecom industry has witnessed severe disruptions after the entry of Reliance Jio in September 2016 with cheap tariffs, which eventually forced smaller operators to either close operations or consolidate—leaving just two operational entities, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel Ltd.
With fewer telecom tenants, the tower industry has flipped from being a seller’s market over three years ago to a buyer’s market currently.
Indus Towers, thus, believes that hosting EV charging units is a natural extension for the company because of its large footprint.
“We are very keen about this (EV) space. Since the car tank will be replaced by a battery, you will need to charge that battery at either commercial places or your building. The kind of turnaround we talk about in these electric vehicles, you will need many locations. And we have locations which are powered 24 hours of the day making it suitable for EV charging," a top company official said, requesting anonymity.
Indus Towers’ plans come at a time when the Union government is aggressively looking to increase the sale of electric vehicles and also make the country a global manufacturing base for EVs. The government in this year’s budget announced income tax rebates of up to ₹1.5 lakh to customers on interest paid on loans to buy electric vehicles, with a total exemption benefit of ₹2.5 lakh over the entire loan period.
The government also announced customs duty exemption on lithium-ion cells, which will help lower the cost of the batteries in India, as they are not produced locally. Makers of components, such as solar electric charging infrastructure and lithium storage batteries, will be offered investment-linked income tax exemptions under Section 35 AD of the Income Tax Act, besides other indirect tax benefits.
To handle the charging of EVs, Indus Towers would have to extend the outlets of its current mobile tower infrastructure to EV charging as well, the official added. This is part of its endeavour to become an infrastructure provider independent of any sector.
“We have a location to sell. Any and every technology which hangs on our location and pays us money, we are happy about it," he said. “There is a huge amount of traction that Indus is seeing from municipalities in providing the EV charging stations and trials have already started in Gurgaon."
Indus Towers, is still to firm up its EV charging plans, including the likely investments given the early stages of the EV ecosystem in India.
“What kind of nozzle will go into the car...what will be the battery charging model and the charging cycle, or will the battery be swappable...all that is still on the table," the official said.
The company, which was incorporated in November 2007 as a joint venture between certain entities of Bharti Group, Vodafone Group and Idea Cellular, is in the final stages of completing a merger with Bharti Infratel Ltd.
Last April, the two tower companies had agreed to merge their businesses to create the world’s largest tower company outside China.
The combined entity will own more than 163,000 towers, second only to China Tower.
It will be listed on the stock exchanges, as Bharti Infratel is a publicly-traded company.
Its nearest rival in India will be ATC, which has 78,000 towers.