India's Telcos Hit 250M Subs

As India's government mulls how to accommodate a rash of companies that have been attracted by the growth of the country's mobile market and applied for licenses, its established telecom operators have surpassed a milestone, reaching 250 million mobile and fixed-line subscribers combined.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released subscriber figures for September showing that service providers ended the month with 248.7 million subscribers, roughly 7.6 million more than at the end of August, which put them on track to surpass the 250 million mark during October. The government had set that target for the end of December, with the further goal of reaching 500 million connections by 2010.

The density of phones stands at about 21.9 for every 100 people, a number that seemed a long way off in 1999, when the government in its national telecom policy projected a density of 15 percent by 2010.

There were more than 209 million mobile subscribers in total at the end of September, an indication of how rapidly the market has accelerated. It took 10 years from the time mobile services were launched in India in 1995 to reach 100 million subscribers -- and just two years to reach 200 million.

Mobile operators signed up 7.8 million users during September. Wireline operators, meanwhile, lost 155,000 connections during the month.

September was the slowest month of the third quarter for mobile growth, as carriers added 8.3 million customers in August and 8.1 million in July.

Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), India's largest telco, saw a 5.5 percent increase in its mobile subscribers during September and announced on Oct. 1 that its total customer base, including mobile, fixed, and broadband, had surpassed the 50 million mark -- doubling its size in 14 months. (See Bharti Crosses 50M Subs.)

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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