India Passes 500M Mobile Mark

India's mobile operators activated a staggering 17.65 million new lines during November to take the country's total to just more than 506 million, according to new data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) .

The figures suggest there's plenty of near-term growth left in the Indian mobile market, as the number of new lines still seems to be growing month on month. In October, the mobile population grew by 16.7 million, while in September it increased by nearly 15 million.

Including the country's 37.2 million fixed lines, India now has 543.2 million phone lines, giving it a teledensity of 46.32 percent, meaning there's still plenty of room left for growth, mostly in the country's populous rural areas.

It's not all good news for the Indian mobile market, though. Increasing competition is squeezing the tariffs and margins of incumbent and new entrants alike, while plans to introduce 3G services and mobile number portability (MNP) are in familiar disarray. (See Asia Watch: India 3G Update.)

Plans to introduce MNP from the beginning of 2010 -- see AsiaWatch: What Price India's Mobile Market? and AsiaWatch: India Preps Number Portability -- have suffered a late setback, with April 2010 now looking like the earliest date, according to the Economic Times.

Tata gains ground on Idea
Once again, Tata Teleservices Ltd. signed up the most new customers, adding 3.3 million during November to take its total mobile subscriber base to 54 million. It's now only 1.9 million behind Idea Cellular Ltd. , which also had a good growth month, adding 2.5 million new lines. (See table below.)

Table 1: India's Mobile Operators by Subscribers, November 2009
October 2009 November 2009 Additions during November
Bharti Airtel 113.2 million 116 million 2.8 million
Reliance Communications 88.2 million 91 million 2.8 million
Vodafone Essar 85.8 million 88.6 million 2.8 million
BSNL 59.4 million 60.8 million 1.4 million
Idea Cellular 53.4 million 55.9 million 2.5 million
Tata Teleservices 50.7 million 54 million 3.3 million
Aircel 27.7 million 29.4 million 1.7 million
MTNL 4.74 million 4.82 million 0.08 million
Loop Telecom 2.55 million 2.6 million 0.05 million
Sistema Shyam 2.3 million 2.65 million 0.35 million
HFCL Infotel 0.37 million 0.34 million (0.03 million)
Total mobile lines activated 488.4 million 506 million 17.6 million
Source: TRAI

Both are still a long way behind the big three: Market leader Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), still the only operator with more than 100 million mobile customers, and close rivals Reliance Communications Ltd. and Vodafone India .

Reliance appears to be preparing for a growth spurt. It's planning major investments (worth about US$1.35 billion) in its mobile and enterprise services infrastructure during the coming year as part of a plan dubbed "Edge 2010," according to India's Business Standard.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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