India Sets Subs Record

India's mobile operators added a record 15.64 million new connections during March this year, taking the total number of activated wireless lines to 391.76 million, according to the latest figures issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) .

This set a new high, just beating the former record of 15.4 million set in January 2009. It also represents a 14 percent increase on the total added during February. (See India Adds 15M Mobile Subs in January and India Adds 13M Subs in February).

And, remarkably, the number of fixed-line connections also increased, though only by 230,000, to take the total to 37.96 million. That reverses a long-term trend of month-on-month decline, as Indian consumers have been abandoning their fixed lines and relying on their mobile services.

The growing popularity of fixed broadband (any line delivering a downlink speed greater than 256 kbit/s) appears to be one of the reasons for the reverse: India's fixed-line operators added 370,000 new broadband connections during March to take the total to 6.22 million.

That's still a very low figure for a country with a population approaching 1.2 billion: Mass market broadband is only likely to take off once high-speed wireless data services are broadly available, but that won't happen until the much delayed 3G and WiMax spectrum auctions take place. (See Indian Operator Expects Lengthy 3G Delay ).

In total, India now has 429.7 million telephone connections, giving the country a teledensity of almost 37 percent, up from 35.65 percent at the end of February.

Of the mobile operators, Reliance Communications Ltd. reported the highest number of additions at just over 3 million, closely followed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Vodafone India .

Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), the country's largest mobile operator, was a close fourth with 2.81 million customer additions.

The table below shows the relative market positions of the country's operators at the end of March 2009. Table 1: India's Mobile Operator Ranking by Subscribers
Overall Ranking Operator Subscribers added in March '09 Total subscribers as of end March '09 Market Share as of end March '09*
1 Bharti Airtel 2,808,277 93,923,248 23.97%
2 Reliance Communications 3,025,809 72,666,192 18.55%
3 Vodafone Essar 2,848,096 68,768,998 17.55%
4 BSNL 2,902,237 52,144,234 13.31%
5 IDEA Cellular 1,419,347 38,889,457 9.93%
6 Tata Teleservices 1,254,940 35,121,964 8.97%
7 Aircel 18,478,325 4.72%
8 MTNL 1,001,363 4,482,512 1.14%
9 Spice Telecom (now part of Idea Cellular but still reporting connections separately) 84,839 4,133,342 1.06%
10 Loop Telecom (including BPL in Mumbai now rebranded Loop) 91,027 2,164,211 0.55%
11 Sistema Shyam 101266 599,801 0.15%
12 HFCL Infotel -1,544 388,285 0.01%
*Figures have been rounded to nearest decimal place and therefore do not add up to exactly 100%.
Source: TRAI

Reliance, predominantly a CDMA service provider, has made significant inroads during the first quarter of 2009, adding 11.3 million customers, compared to 5.3 million during the previous three-month period, according to the company's own figures. It cites the successful launch of its nationwide GSM service, which began on December 30, 2008, as the main driver of its additional growth. (See Reliance Launches National GSM, Reliance Borrows $750M for Huawei Gear, and Reliance Gets GSM Spectrum.) For more information on the Indian telecom market see A Guide to India's Telecom Market.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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