IndiaWatch: Mobile Nears 347M Subs

India's mobile operators activated a staggering 10.81 million new lines during December 2008, taking the total number of wireless connections in the country to 346.89 million at the end of last year, according to new figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) .

India added 113.26 million new mobile lines during 2008, an average of 9.44 million new lines per month. During 2007 and 2008 combined, India's mobile population grew by 197.3 million.

The country's largest mobile operator, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), had 85.65 million mobile customers at the end of 2008, giving it a 24.7 percent market share. Second place Reliance Communications Ltd. closed the year with 61.35 million mobile customers (17.7 percent market share), while Vodafone India had 60.93 million for a 17.6 percent.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) had 46.23 million wireless lines (13.3 percent share); Idea Cellular Ltd. had 34.21 million (9.9 percent share); and Tata Teleservices Ltd. had 31.76 million (9.2 percent share).

The country's fixed line base continues to shrink, though: The number of fixed line connections in India fell by 150,000 during December 2008, finishing the year at 37.9 million. The number of fixed broadband connections grew, though, by 170,000 to 5.45 million.

As their 2G mobile subscriber bases grow, India's operators are still waiting for a decision on when the postponed 3G spectrum auction will be held. (See India Faces 3G Delay.)

Also delayed is the planned $1 billion investment by Norwegian carrier Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) in new mobile entrant Unitech Wireless. The investment had been due to close sometime in January, but Telenor said today it is "now expected to take place during the first quarter of 2009." (See IndiaWatch: Telenor Still Committed.)

Telenor says it "remains confident that all conditions will be met within the indicated timeframe, including agreements for infrastructure sharing that will allow a swift and cost-efficient rollout."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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