India's operators lost more than 3 million subscribers in June, leaving them with about 1.16 billion altogether, according to the latest data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Vodafone Idea performed worst, losing about 4.8 customers, while BSNL, a government-owned service provider, and Bharti Airtel lost 1.7 million and 1.1 million respectively.
MTNL, another public-sector operator with operations in Delhi and Mumbai, lost 3,807 customers.
Overall losses would therefore have been much worse if it were not for continued growth at Reliance Jio, the biggest player, which gained 4.5 million new subscribers in June.
The ups and downs leave Jio with about 397 million customers, Airtel serving roughly 316 million and Vodafone Idea with around 305 million users.
BSNL and MTNL have 118 million and 3.3 million subscribers, respectively.
Losses meant there was a corresponding decline in penetration.
In the mobile sector, that fell from 84.6% at the end of May to 84.3% at the end of June, with India recording a decline in both urban and rural mobile subscriptions.
The fall in June followed the loss of 8.2 million customers in April and 5 million in May.
The coronavirus pandemic could be a key reason.
In the early days of the outbreak, several hundred thousand laborers quit the cities to walk home to their villages.
Previously, they had relied heavily on mobile services to communicate with families back home.
The loss of livelihoods and the return to their families could explain the sharp reduction in customer numbers.
While Jio's figures look impressive, there are some questions about its active user base.
The operator had as many as 87 million inactive subscribers according to June's Visitor Location Register (VLR) data.
Essentially, the number of customers paying for a service was 28% higher than the number that were active.
Jio's data is in sharp contrast with that of its rivals: June subscriber data shows that 98.1% of Airtel's subscribers were active, while Vodafone Idea counted 89.4% of its customers as active.
In other words, while Jio was the only telco to add new subscribers, it also has the lowest percentage of active subscribers of all the private-sector players.
The data shows that an exceptionally high number of Jio subscribers continue to use it as a complementary service.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading