Most people who spend even a little time in front of the idiot box would already know through Reliance Jio’s advertisements that its subscriber base has crossed the 300 million mark. This, it has been tom-tomming for a while. Now, it appears in sniffing distance of unseating Bharti Airtel to become the second-largest player by subscriber count in India’s telecom market. Reportly, Jio now has a subscriber count of 306 million (paying and non-paying both) at the end of 2019’s first quarter. Airtel, with its 284 million figure (all paying) at the end of 2018, could find itself in third spot on overall numbers. Jio would then lag only Vodafone-Idea, which has 387 million subscribers. Analysts suggest it may be a matter of a few quarters before market leadership is taken by Jio.
The sheer pace of Jio’s growth has been spectacular, to say the least, considering it began operations barely two-and-a-half years ago. Its entry caused an upheaval, wiping out some smaller players (Aircel and Reliance Communications, for example), and triggered mergers among others to bulk up and defend themselves from Jio’s onslaught of dirt cheap data plans. While some of these competitors have complained about Reliance using the group’s deep pockets to wage a predatory price war, customers have a lot to cheer.
Reliance’s strategy of offering a bouquet of digital services such as internet access, news, music and entertainment content, has helped multiply Indian data usage several fold while also making conventional voice services almost free. Its high-speed network has forced rivals to upgrade infrastructure. Customers, as a result, are getting better services. The rest of the sector is expected to stabilize once the havoc caused by Jio’s entry settles down. And even though they can’t seem to match Jio’s throwaway deals, the initial threat appears to have ebbed. Competitors are slowly but surely upping their game and raising funds to stay competitive. It would be a pity if they’re unable to hold their own. Every market needs several contenders for it to thrive.