In the last six months of the current financial year much has happened in the Indian telecom sector—not that it takes that long for anything to happen in one of the more dynamic sectors in the country. But, sometimes, some important things go unnoticed.
For instance, while it may be known that 2014-15 was the year the number of phone subscribers in the country crossed one billion, few may know that this was despite the continued fall in fixed lines connections—down to almost 26 million at the end of September. The mobile phone continues to make up for the lack of any other connectivity in the country. Data from the telecom regulator was only available till September, and at 996.6 million subscribers, it’s safe to assume that number of mobile connections has likely crossed a billion.
While the definition of broadband in the country changed to 512kbps last year, the number of wireless broadband users in the country crossed 100 million this year, in August, and ended the first six months of this financial year at almost 105 million. Apart from that, there were 16 million fixed-line broadband users in the country as well, the latest figures from the telecom regulator showed. That’s up from 60 million a year ago, at the end of September.
While not that impressive given the expectations at the time of the 3G spectrum auction in 2010, these numbers will likely pick up once Reliance Jio rolls out its 4G technology-based services and competition picks up in the data side of the sector.
The fact is competition is already seemingly picking up with many of the telcos reporting a significant increase in deployment of 3G and 4G sites. Some telcos have also since reported a slowdown in voice margins.
Among the individual telecom companies, while the pecking order has not changed in the last six months, what is interesting to note is the fact that the strong seem to have got stronger and the weak have become weaker, but the middle order seems to just about be hanging on. Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd continue to dominate the leader board with 235.2 million, 188.1 million and 166.5 million subscribers respectively. But then comes Reliance Communications Ltd that seems to have not moved. The telco had 110.1 million subscribers at the end of September last year. This fell to 109.4 million at the end of the current fiscal and is now back to 110.3 million at the end of September. These numbers are likely to go up by about 5-8 million, once the company concludes its merger with Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd (that runs the MTS brand).
State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, which has outlined a plan to turn around its flailing operations, comes sixth with 79.69 million subscribers, up from 77.2 million at the end of March, but quite a bit short of the 86.71 million subscribers it had at the end of September last year. This drop could also be behind the company falling behind Aircel in the last 12 months.