Tough times in Asian telecom.
Weak earnings from several of the biggest Asian telcos in the past 24 hours are a reminder the market reality is a long way from the 5G dream.
SingTel, China Mobile and HKT all revealed flat or declining performances.
The best numbers came not from an operator but from China Tower, a beneficiary of the buckets of cash operators are tipping into 5G.
Singapore Telecom took the strongest hit, a 35% drop in quarterly earnings, to S$541 million ($391 million) -- well short of the expected range of S$660 million to S$700 million, Today Online reported.
The biggest weight on the result was Indian affiliate Bharti Airtel, in which SingTel has a 35% indirect stake. The Indian operator is enmeshed in local price wars and has just posted its first loss in 14 years.
SingTel loaded up on debt to acquire more Bharti stock in March, but that helped push net gearing from 22% to 28%.
Now both S&P and Moody's have cut their rating on the stock to negative from stable, Reuters reports.
SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong argued that, aside from Airtel, "business is stable as we continued to execute to strategy."
Aside from Airtel, however, the company recorded a 3.4% fall in income -- probably not the kind of stability investors are seeking.
China Mobile's 14.6% slide in profit was within expectations, but also did not meet with investors' favor. The stock is off 0.16% for the day and is down 14.9% since the start of the year.
Revenue for the first half was 0.6% lower, the company said, blaming the government campaign to cut data charges as well as the saturated market.
"As the upside of data traffic rapidly diminishes, the industry is facing more severe challenges," it warned.
Hong Kong incumbent HKT at least did not go backwards. It issued what it called "a solid set of financial results," eking out a 2% improvement in EBITDA against an 11% contraction in revenues for the first half.
Excluding handset sales, however, service revenues were up just 1%, to HK$13.8 billion ($1.76 billion), although HKT's gross margin rose 6 percentage points, to 54%.
The uninspiring results from the Singapore, China and Hong Kong market leaders followed NTT DoCoMo's report of an 11.9% drop in quarterly earnings on July 26. The biggest Japanese telco introduced new discount plans over the summer but has been unable to persuade customers to buy them.
By contrast, China Tower issued a glowing result.
The operator-owned site specialist more than doubled net profit, to 2.56 billion yuan ($360 million), on the back of a 7.5% increase in revenue.
The company said it had won orders for the construction of 65,000 5G basestation towers and expects 100,000 orders by the end of the year. (See China 5G Plans Put China Tower in the Spotlight.)
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading