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The latest subscriber data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) showed that active subscribers rose 3.3 million to 979 million in January.

Bharti Airtel Ltd continued to lead the pack with an addition of 6.9 million active subscribers, taking its total to 336 million in January. Reliance Jio’s active subscribers fell by 3.5 million to 325 million. This is the widest lead in terms of active subscribers Airtel has taken in a long time.

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According to domestic brokerage house Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd, Bharti Airtel has been consistently improving the pace of subscriber additions in the past six months. “The company added a total of 29 million active subscribers since May 2020. With this, it has regained its top spot in terms of active subscriber market share (SMS) at 34.3%. The quality of subscriber additions is reflected in its strong 5.5 million 4G additions taking up 59% incremental SMS," it said in a report on 17 March.

Taking the lead
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Taking the lead

Analysts at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd are of the view that strong data subscriber additions in Q3FY21 and sustained momentum in Q4FY21 should continue to improve Bharti Airtel’s revenue mix and support ARPU improvement even without a tariff hike. ARPU is short for average revenue per user.

In the case of Jio, this is the largest loss in active subscribers for Reliance Jio since the peak of the pandemic in April last year. While the company has said that the active subscriber number is not a true reflection of its subscriber base, note that its gross subscriber additions are also lagging Airtel.

Its gross subscriber addition run-rate has slowed to around 2 million for the last six months, point out analysts at Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

Analysts say Jio is looking to regain its subscriber addition momentum through cheaper offers for the JioPhone.

“The traction in Jio’s subscriber momentum from March 2021 onwards would be a key event to watch out for," domestic brokerage house JM Financial Institutional Services Ltd said in a report on 17 March.

Apart from launching a new phone, Jio is also augmenting capacity to address the capacity constraint concern.

In a recent spectrum auction conducted by the government, Reliance Jio emerged as the largest bidder buying spectrum worth more than 57,000 crore.

Vodafone Idea Ltd saw its gross subscribers base turn positive after more than a year, with additions of 1.7 million.

This improvement was aided by 3.75 million additions in the Uttar Pradesh circle alone, suggesting a focus on a few strong circles. Although its active subscribers declined by 0.3 million, the pace of fall slowed.

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