New Delhi: India’s mobile phone firms that use the dominant European wireless standard, GSM, added more than six million new customers in March, nearly two million more than a previous monthly record.
Together with additions on networks running on a US protocol called CDMA, short for code division multiple access, India has added over 7.5 million customers—nearly 5% of its existing 160 million cellular subscriber base—in just month, according to industry representatives. GSM stands for global system for mobile communications.
The record monthly additions were primarily driven by a doubling of monthly subscriber additions by state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd or BSNL to two million in March.
“Despite the impact of deactivations due to subscriber verfication measures directed by the government, we are seeing the market perform strongly due to accelerating demand,” said T.V. Ramachandran, director general of industry group, Cellular Operators Association of India, the industry body that represents GSM operators such as market leader Bharti Airtel and Hutchison Essar, the industry number four in terms of subscribers.
Deactivation of subscriber accounts were spread over the last few months for most GSM operators, Ramachandran added, pointing to the performance of BSNL’s rivals Airtel and Hutch, who continued to add subscribers in March at the same rate as in February.
GSM operators have been adding around four million subscribers and CDMA firms around two million in each of the past six months. BSNL’s two million customer additions in March is more than double the average 7.5 lakh added in each of the preceding 11 months of the fiscal year.
Airtel and Hutch added 1.7 million and 1.1 million new customers respectively, industry sources said.
An official of Tata Teleservices, a CDMA operator, said the company is likely to report subscriber growth in line with the average 800,000 additions in the last few months.
Reliance Communications, India’s second-biggest cellular service firm, had reported additions of 1.2 million in March, but has disconnected 4.2 million customer accounts in April over lack of proper documentation.
BSNL attributed the rise to a spike in year-end demand. “There was pent up demand and since it was the end of the year, we had to work extra hard to make sure we achieved our targets,” its chairman and managing director A.K. Sinha said. “The end of the year is when organizations make sure they account for all their assets, and hidden subscribers, who may not have been accounted for, may be brought up now,” said Prashant Singhal, senior analyst with consultant Ernst & Young India, adding that he expects growth in the GSM user base to be sustained in the current fiscal.
BSNL has added 10 million customers in fiscal 2007; Airtel added nearly 18 million and Hutch over 11 million. In all, GSM operators have added nearly 51 million customers in fiscal 2007, taking the total to over 120 million by March. CDMA firms account for the remaining 49 million mobile phone users.