New Delhi: The number of phones — mobile and fixed-line together—in India will cross the 200-million mark this month and is well on its way to top half a billion in five years, analysts say. By then, though, fixed-line phones may be a rare commodity.
For a country that had barely 20 million phones in 1995, when private mobile phone companies came in, that growth has been phenomenal: there’s one phone for every six citizens today compared to one for 50 a dozen years ago.
Technology researcher IDC expects 85 million new mobile users to be added this year, beating China in annual additions for the first time. Since October, Indian cellular companies have seen more monthly additions than in China.
That will accelerate further in the coming months, adds an IDC analyst. Says IDC’s general manager for communications research, Deepak Kumar: “We have seen the market breach even the most ambitious of projections.” Kumar points to the country’s comparatively low teledensity, around 17.45% against China’s 40%, as the main factor that will keep India at the top of the global volume markets this year. “We have not reached the stage where we will plateau out. We are likely to see the monthly numbers increasing at least for this year,” he says.
Penetration in less-prosperous states are still at around 5% to 10%. With prices on a constant downward spiral, even in rural areas, demand will keep increasing.
“Currently, the cost to go mobile, including talk-time and the handset, is around Rs1,000. Now there is talk that a new operator is going to source handsets at a cost of around Rs850. Together with some possible subsidy, this is going to further lower the entry barrier for the subscriber, bringing in more and more customers,” Kumar says.
Regulatory experts say India’s decision to allow private mobile phone players in the early 1990s and mandating a digital technology is working out in its favour. Pradip Baijal, a former bureaucrat who chaired India’s telecom regulatory authority in the years after the government ushered in a New Telecom Policy in 1999, predicts the demand will keep rising. India has a lot of catching up to do before the growth starts flattening, he says.
Older systems like fixed-line phones, however, will find fewer takers as cellular technologies evolve offering better quality voice and support data-heavy applications such as mobile television. Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile phone operator, has in the past likened a fixed-line phone to a clock in a house. “There will be a fixed-line phone like a clock in every house and mobile phones will be like watches on every wrist,” Mittal had told an interviewer in 2004.