India's Big Four Drive Market Growth

India's base of telecom users is fast approaching the 1 billion mark. The number of customers throughout the entire country rose from 970.9 million at the end of 2014 to 979.2 million at the end of January, according to the latest data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Tellingly, India's biggest operators are still extending their lead over smaller rivals. (See India's Mobile Subs Base Nears 1 Billion.)

Naturally, most of the subscribers are on the wireless side. Indeed, there were just 26.9 million fixed-line customers at the end of January, and the number had fallen from 27 million in December. Moreover, with a 91.5% share of the market, India's privately owned mobile operators dominate the telecom landscape.

Of these players, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) remains the biggest, with 22.5% of the market, while Vodafone India holds the number two spot, with an 18.4% share. Rounding out the top four are Idea Cellular Ltd. , which controls 15.6% of the market, and Reliance Communications Ltd. , with 10.9% of customers.

Table 1: india's Mobile Operators by Customer Numbers

Operator Customers (M) Market share
Bharti Airtel 220.0 22.5%
Vodafone India 180.5 18.4%
Idea Cellular 152.9 15.6%
Reliance Communications 106.6 10.9%
BSNL 80.1 8.2%
Aircel 79.6 8.1%
Tata Teleservices 66.5 6.8%
Telewings (Uninor) 44.5 4.5%
Sistema 8.9 0.9%
Videocon 6.6 0.7%
MTNL 3.5 0.4%
Quadrant 2.6 0.3%
Source: TRAI

Figures show those players are still easily beating their challengers when it comes to subscriber growth. Bharti Airtel added 2.8 million new customers in January, while Idea captured 2.3 million and Vodafone another 1.8 million. Aircel Ltd. managed just 0.9 million subscriber additions in the same month, with Uninor claiming 0.8 million new sign-ups.

Meanwhile, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. , India's only pan-India CDMA operator, lost a total of 87,201 subscribers in January. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) has continued to lose market share and it flagged further setbacks in January, when the state-backed operator saw more than 1.2 million customers quit its service.

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While India's cities are now flooded with phones, operators still have an opportunity to find new customers in less densely populated areas. Overall penetration hit 78.16% at the end of January. But penetration in urban areas reached 148.5%, while that in rural zones stood at just 46.6%. A big challenge here remains affordability -- although prices are among the cheapest in the world, they may still be too high for many consumers on lower incomes.

In the meantime, broadband services are becoming more affordable for those at the opposite end of the market. The overall number of broadband customers rose impressively from 85.74 million at the end of 2014 to 94.49 million at the end of January. And mobile technology is nearly as dominant here as in India's voice market, with 78.6 million subscribers using phones and dongles to get online. Indeed, the number of customers using fixed-line technologies for broadband increased by just 70,000 in January.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

DHagar 3/24/2015 | 4:52:45 PM
Re: India's Market Growth Gagandeep, great report and analysis of this growing market.  You pointed out the future growth opportunities (ie rural and the developing interest in Broadband).  I am also wondering what you see as market opportunities for content providers to deliver packaged services through these networks?  Also, if that isn't a way to address the pricing issue, with bundled packages?
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