Reliance Jio, India's youngest and fastest-growing network operator, has finally overtaken Bharti Airtel to become India's second-largest service provider by customers, behind Vodafone Idea. But how do the two market leaders stack up as far as key performance indicators are concerned?
At the end of May, Vodafone served one third of the market while RJio had a 27.8% share, according to the latest data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Vodafone claimed about 387 million subscribers at the end of June, with RJio boasting 320 million at the end of May. However, Vodafone Idea's subscribers include customers across the 2G, 3G and 4G network technologies, whereas RJio is a pure-play 4G service provider. Just 84.8 million of Vodafone's customers use 4G services.
"Our subscriber base declined to 320 million from 334.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 primarily due to customer churn following the introduction of 'service validity vouchers' in the prior quarters. However, our high ARPU [average revenue per user] subscriber base remained broadly stable," says the recent media release issued by Vodafone.
The operator has been losing customers ever since it introduced a monthly minimum recharge scheme. About seven months ago, Vodafone Idea stopped offering an incoming call facility to subscribers who were not recharging. Customers were asked to make a recharge payment of 35 Indian rupees to access incoming calls. While this led to a fall in customer numbers, it boosted ARPU.
This is the one of the most significant and interesting metrics. By eliminating low-spending customers, Vodafone has been able to improve its ARPU. The figure rose from INR104 ($1.46) to INR108 ($1.52) between the March- and June-ending quarters.
Although it continues to make more per subscriber than Vodafone, RJio's ARPU has been steadily falling. It dropped from INR126 ($1.77) in the first quarter of 2019 to INR122 ($1.72) in the second.
Vodafone is currently working to combine the networks of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular after those companies merged to form the current business. It claims to have around 156,000km of fiber across the country and is boosting 4G coverage to improve service quality for subscribers.
RJio claims to have approximately 532,000 basestations covering 95% of the country's population. It has around 300,000km of fiber, almost double that of Vodafone Idea. These assets will be crucial as it launches its Jio Gigafiber service and targets the enterprise market.
Because Vodafone has yet to make its presence felt in the enterprise and broadband markets, RJio might be able to score an advantage. It has also just announced a tie-up with Microsoft that could support its ambitions in these areas.
"This is a unique and first-of-its-kind partnership that brings the capabilities of two large companies focused on creating significant value to Indian enterprises -- small and large," said Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, in a statement about that deal. "By working together to develop innovative and affordable cloud-enabled digital solutions built around RJio's world-class digital infrastructure and Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, we will accelerate the digitization of the Indian economy and make Indian businesses globally competitive."
Vodafone posted revenues of INR112.7 billion ($1.58 billion) in the June-ending quarter, while RJio made about INR116.8 billion ($1.64 billion). What remains to be seen is whether Vodafone can defend its customer base, and grow revenues, while RJio continues to attract subscribers.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading