India’s overall telephone subscribers base declined to 1.17 billion in October-December from 1.19 billion a quarter ago, registering a fall of 1.9%, according to data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Tuesday. The decline in the country’s overall subscriber base was driven by both urban and rural areas.
In urban India, telephone subscribers fell to 660 million at the end of the December quarter, from 68 million subscribers in the previous quarter, Trai said in its Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report for October-December, 2019.
In rural areas, telephone subscribers declined to 510 million in the quarter-ended December, as against 520 million users at the end of July-September. However, trends showed that the subscriber base shifted to rural areas in the December quarter.
“Out of the total subscription, the share of rural subscription increased from 43.28% at the end of Sep-19 to 43.50% at the end of Dec-19," Trai said in a statement.
The country’s total wireless subscriber base also declined to 1.15 billion in October-December from 1.17 billion in the last quarter, recording a contraction of 1.9% quarter-on-quarter. On year-on-year (YoY) basis, wireless subscriptions decreased 2.09% during the December quarter, Trai said.
However, total internet subscribers increased to 720 million in the December quarter, from 690 million at the end of July-September, registering a quarterly growth of 4.53%. Trai said of the total internet users as of end of December, the number of wired internet subscribers were 22.39 million, while the number of wireless users stood at over 696 million.
Broadband internet subscriber base increased by 5.8% to 0.66 million during October-December, from 0.62 million at the end of the previous quarter.
Though tariff hike in October-December led to improved financial performance by telecom operators, it clearly shows how price conscious subscribers are. In October, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm had introduced charges for calls outside the network.
Reliance Jio mobile phone customers needed to buy top-up vouchers to make outgoing voice calls to any non-Jio mobile number like that of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. Following this, in early December, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio increased their bundled prepaid tariffs by around 15-47%. This was the first tariff hike in the cash-strapped industry since September 2016 when Jio was launched with its free services.
The tariff hikes were not only essential for the telecom sector’s health but also to boost SIM consolidation in the market. In the subsequent quarters, Bharti Airtel reported growing average revenue per user (ARPU), from ₹128 in Q2FY20 to ₹135 and ₹154 in Q3 and Q4, respectively. Similarly, Jio reported Arpu growth from ₹120 to ₹130 in two quarters. In this duration, Vodafone Idea lost maximum number of subscribers largely due to a change in the active user reporting format from 120 to 90 days.