India Tops 400M Mobile Subs

India's mobile operators added 11.9 million new customers during April this year, taking the total number of wireless lines activated to 403.7 million, according to the latest statistics from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) .

While that number is down compared with March's astonishing figure of 15.64 million new additions, it shows there is still an enormous appetite for mobile connections in the country: During the first four months of 2009, India's mobile operators have activated 56.4 million new lines. No wonder mobile handset market leader Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has the biggest revenues of any telecom systems vendor active in India. (See Indian Market Grows 20%.)

April's new mobile additions have bumped India's total number of telephone service connections (fixed and wireless) to 441.47 million, giving the country a teledensity of 37.94 percent, according to the TRAI figures.

After a brief increase in March, the total number of fixed-line connections dipped in April by 150,000 to 37.81 million, though the number of broadband lines (with a downlink bandwidth greater than 256 Kbit/s) grew by 60,000 to reach 6.28 million.

That's a disappointing number of new broadband line additions. A year earlier, in April 2008, India recorded 110,000 new broadband lines, while in March 2009 India's fixed line operators activated 370,000 new broadband connections between them.

And it seems that the growth in India's fixed broadband market is set to be steady but unspectacular for the remainder of 2009 and for the years to follow. The analyst team at Pyramid Research expect India's broadband sector (residential and business users) to boast nearly 8.8 million users by the end of this year, hit 12.9 million by the end of next year, and reach 17.7 million at the end of 2011 -- a total that would still leave India with a broadband penetration rate of just 7 percent of all households and business premises, and just 1.5 percent of the total Indian population.

Mobile growth is set to be far more spectacular, of course. The Pyramid team expects the Indian mobile market to boast 493 million users by the end of this year, and reach nearly 683 million by the end of 2011, with Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) still the leading mobile operator by the number of subscriptions, as it is now.

The battle for second place
Bharti Airtel is still the clear leader in terms of subscriber numbers, having added more than 2.8 million new customers during April to take its total number of activated mobile lines to 96.74 million, giving it a near 24 percent market share. (See table below.)

Table 1: India's Mobile Operator Rankings for April 2009
Ranking Operator Additions during April 2009 Total mobile subscribers at end of April 2009 Market share
1 Bharti Airtel 2,812,058 96,735,306 23.96%
2 Reliance Communications 2,170,418 74,836,610 18.54%
3 Vodafone Essar 2,772,890 71,541,888 17.72%
4 BSNL 1,030,066 53,174,300 13.17%
5 IDEA Cellular 1,113,197 40,002,654 9.90%
6 Tata Teleservices 605,239 35,727,203 8.85%
7 Aircel 1,106,974 19,585,299 4.85%
8 MTNL 47,045 4,529,557 1.12%
9 Spice Telecom (now part of Idea Cellular but still reporting connections separately) 38,245 4,171,587 1.03%
10 Loop Telecom (including BPL in Mumbai now rebranded Loop) 40,465 2,204,676 0.55%
11 Sistema Shyam 168,839 768,640 0.19%
12 HFCL Infotel -2,689 385,596 0.09%
Source: TRAI

The real battle is for second place, with Reliance Communications Ltd. clinging on ahead of Vodafone India .

At the lower end of the ranking, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. is picking up some steam, having grown its subscriber base by 28 percent during April. However, the CDMA operator, which launched it services in October 2008, still only commands less than 0.2 percent of the total market. (See Shyam Launches CDMA Service.)

Now India's mobile players, as well as interested overseas operators, are waiting to see if the new Indian government can get the 3G auction process back on track and take the sector into its next phase of technical and services development. (See IndiaWatch: 3G Auction Imminent.)

For more information on the Indian telecom market see A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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