India Adds 16.7M Mobile Lines in October

The demand for mobile services in India can only be described as 'insatiable' following news from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that the country's mobile operators collectively activated 16.67 million new lines during October, an average of nearly 538,000 each day.

That growth takes the number of mobile connections in India to 488.4 million at the end of October, and it seems likely that the 500 million mobile landmark will be reached this month.

Including fixed lines, India now has 525.65 million telephony connections, giving the country a teledensity of 44.87 per cent. That means there's still more than half a billion people in India without their own line, so the strong demand for new mobile connections is likely to continue for some time, especially as the market's mobile operators push deeper into the previously under-served rural service areas, or "circles." (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

Once again Tata Teleservices Ltd. lead the way, activating the most new lines during the month, adding nearly 3.9 million new customers (nearly 23.2 per cent of the month's total additions) to reach nearly 50.7 million customers.

Tata also lead the way in September, when it added 4 million new connections. (See India Nears 500M Mobile Lines.)

Vodafone India was the second biggest gainer, adding nearly 3 million connections, almost 17.9 per cent of the month's new lines, to take its total to 85.8 million.

Table 1: India's Mobile Operators by Subscribers, October 2009
September 2009 October 2009 Additions during October
Bharti Airtel 110.5 million 113.2 million 2.7 million
Reliance Communications 86.1 million 88.2 million 2.1 million
Vodafone Essar 82.8 million 85.8 million 3.0 million
BSNL 58.8 million 59.4 million 0.6 million
Idea Cellular 51.5 million 53.4 million 1.9 million
Tata Teleservices 46.8 million 50.7 million 3.9 million
Aircel 25.7 million 27.7 million 2.0 million
MTNL 4.68 million 4.74 million 0.06 million
Loop Telecom 2.50 million 2.55 million 0.05 million
Sistema Shyam 2.0 million 2.3 million 0.3 million
HFCL Infotel 0.38 million 0.37 million -0.01 million
Total mobile lines activated 471.7 million 488.4 million 16.7 million
Source: TRAI

India's operators are building up to two other importance milestones: The introduction of number portability from the beginning of 2010; and the auction of 3G and wireless broadband spectrum, which should take place during the first few months of next year, though further delays can't be ruled out. (See AsiaWatch: What Price India's Mobile Market? and India Faces Further 3G Delay.)

In the fixed line world, India's operators signed up a further 180,000 broadband customers between them, taking the total to 7.4 million. The government, and the operators, are hoping that investments in fiber access technology and IPTV systems will help drive more dramatic growth in that particular services segment in the coming few years. (See Airtel Boosts Triple-Play Speeds, BSNL Begins FTTH Rollout, APAC Streaks Ahead in FTTH, , and UTStarcom Wins India Deal.)

The total number of fixed lines, though, continues to fall as people turn to mobile phones for their voice services. India's wireline market shrank by 50,000 lines in October, ending the month at 37.25 million.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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