India Ends 2009 on a Mobile High

A mind-boggling 19.1 million new mobile lines were activated in India during December 2009 -- a new record -- leaving the country's mobile carriers with a total of 525.15 million connections at the close of last year, according to the latest data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) .

This means India's mobile operators collectively added a staggering 178.26 million new lines during 2009, having ended 2008 with 346.89 million mobile users. (See IndiaWatch: Mobile Nears 347M Subs.)

So, on average, India's mobile carriers added 14.86 million new connections per month, or more than 488,000 each day of the year.

And if you really want to know how many that is per hour, it's 20,349. (You can work out the per-minute figure yourselves. And if you're wondering about the per-second figure, call a therapist...)

Anyway, the point is, a lot of people in India got a new mobile connection in 2009.

The ramp in mobile users, offset only a smidgen by a tiny fall (100,000) in the number of fixed line users to 37.06 million, gave India an aggregate of 562.21 million telephony lines. That, in turn, gives the country of more than 1.1 billion people a teledensity of 47.89 percent.

Yet again, Tata Teleservices Ltd. added the most new customers, signing up nearly 3.34 million new customers, or 17.5 percent of December's mobile additions. Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Reliance Communications Ltd. , and Vodafone India were the next biggest winners, all adding between 2.8 million and 2.9 million new lines each.

And if Tata performs as well in January, and Idea Cellular Ltd. has another disappointing month -- just 1.7 million new customers -- we can expect to see Tata Teleservices usurp IDEA as India's fifth-biggest mobile operator. It's hard to see how that scenario is going to be avoided, so expect some noise from Tata pretty soon.

Table 1: India's Mobile Operators by Subscribers, December 2009
Nov 2009 Dec 2009 Additions during December
Bharti Airtel 116 million 118.9 million 2.9 million
Reliance Communications 91 million 93.8 million 2.8 million
Vodafone Essar 88.6 million 91.4 million 2.8 million
BSNL 60.8 million 62.9 million 2.1 million
Idea Cellular 55.9 million 57.6 million 1.7 million
Tata Teleservices 54 million 57.3 million 3.3 million
Aircel 29.4 million 31 million 1.6 million
MTNL 4.82 million 4.88 million 0.06 million
Loop Telecom 2.6 million 2.65 million 0.05 million
Sistema Shyam 2.65 million 3.05 million 0.4 million
HFCL Infotel 0.34 million 0.34 million Minor decrease
Total mobile lines activated 506 million 525.15 million 19.1 million
Source: TRAI

It's notable that India's rural and smaller urban areas are now key drivers of mobile demand. The country's telecom "circles," or service areas, are split into four categories: Metro circles (the big cities); "A" circles (include sizable cities); "B" circles (include smaller urban areas and towns); and "C" circles (rural areas). (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

According to TRAI, of the 19.1 million new mobile lines activated during December, more than 7.5 million were in "B" circles and nearly 3.2 million in "C" circles. The "A" circles contributed 6.2 million, while the saturated Metro areas added fewer than 2.2 million.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 4:43:42 PM
re: India Ends 2009 on a Mobile High 3G Shocker
The numbers in this post look interesting but I will refrain from commenting on these as it will divert me from the main point which I need to make of the 3G imbroglio. But just in passing.. one needs to seek how many are active users of these listed 500 million users. Carriers have been selling lifetime plans for Rs 99 ( $2). However the users, thinking they have a lifetime number are shocked when after 6 months it is sold to someone else if there is no recharge. This goes complete with your mobile banking and all. So someone else starts getting the SMSs when you withdraw the money from your account. The balance charges on the card are pocketed by the mobile operator. Most customers do not bother to recharge and go in for a new number which can be had for less than $2 and toss the old SIM cards in trash.
But coming to the main point, the 3G aucions which were scheduled in March 2008 were first rescheduled to Dec 2008. Only to be called off abruptly and rescheduled in Dec 2009. Industry observers were willing to swear on oath that this time they would not be rescheduled. This is because India could simply not afford to reschedule them. There is no major country now which has not gone ahead with 3G and the fact the it is going to commonwealth games 2010 later this year made it look imperative to have 3G so that some semblance of advanced data services couls be provided. Not that 3G is a cutting technology anymore.. carrriers have moved on to HSDPA and HSPA+.
But the inevitable has happened. The 3G auctions have again been postponed. This tells the story of the sector. Do you need to say more?
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