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Mobile Subscribers Yearwise comparision

A New High - January marks 15 million mobile subscriber additions

March 15, 2009
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India's telecom journey has seen the sector leapfrog from a monopoly to a highly competitive market with one of the lowest tariffs in the world. Reforms in the sector brought in private players, leading to greater competition, lower tariffs, and a significant increase in subscriber numbers. In 2008, the industry added 8-10 million mobile subscribers a month, making it the fastest growing telecom market in the world. In January 2009, it went one better, adding a remarkable 15.4 million wireless subscribers in the month –­ the highest mobile subscriber addition ever across the world, barring China.

With this, the country's telecom subscriber base has crossed the 400 million mark and the teledensity stands at 34.5 per cent. Wireless subscribers, at 362.3 million, account for 91 per cent of the total.

The January subscriber surge was led by Reliance Communications (RCOM), which added close to 5 million mobile subscribers, the majority of them coming in from its newly launched GSM services. RCOM launched GSM services in early 2009, characteristically, with an aggressive pricing strategy. This enabled the company to garner a third of the total users added during the month. It was also one of the largest subscriber additions by a single company, and was more than half the 9.3 million subscribers added by the other GSM operators during the month.

Among other operators, Vodafone Essar added 2.4 million users taking its total mobile subscriber base to 63 million, while Bharti Airtel added 2.73 million taking its total to 88 million. Idea Cellular added 2 million users while state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) roped in 1.31 million new users to take its total to 42 million.

In contrast to the mobile segment, the wireline segment continued its declining trend, with the subscriber base coming down to 37.75 million in January from 37.9 million in December 2008. During this period, BSNL's wireline subscriber base dipped by 0.2 million, from 29.5 million to 29.29 million.

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) too registered a drop of over 10,000 customers in the wireline space, bringing its total subscriber base to 3.5 million. However, private operators like Bharti Airtel, RCOM and Tata Teleservices recorded positive growth.

Meanwhile, the broadband segment recorded positive growth. It added 200,000 users in January, taking the total number of customers using high speed internet services to 5.65 million. However, this is well below the target of 9 million users by 2007, laid out in the broadband policy.

Rise in handset sales
In 2008, the mobile handset market in India saw almost flat sales, primarily on account of the global economic crisis, inflation and the rise in fuel prices, which impacted consumer buying. However, according to the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), the apex national body of handset vendors, this trend is changing. In January 2009, mobile handset sales grew by about 10 per cent, riding on the back of the 15 million mobile subscriber additions. The ICA estimates that 130 million handsets will be sold in India this year as against the 108 million (both GSM and CDMA) sold in 2008.

While the CDMA market will stay more or less the same, mobile handset manufacturer Samsung feels that the Indian GSM handset market will grow by 10-12 per cent this year. However, Sunil Dutt, country head of Samsung's mobile division, feels that handset sales will witness less than the 25-30 per cent growth seen in 2007. Still, he is optimistic. "While operators are rapidly expanding in rural areas, the replacement market is once again becoming buoyant and this will drive sales in the metros," he says.

Going forward
According to a press statement by S.P. Shukla, president, RCOM, "The next inflection point in India's growth story will come when the interconnect usage charge (IUC) is brought down." Most operators are expecting a steep fall in IUC, resulting in lower consumer tariffs, which will, in turn, substantially boost the demand for mobile services.

While telecom growth continues apace, uncertainty remains regarding the 3G spectrum auctions. The new technology is vital for offering advanced mobile phone services such as high speed internet and video conferencing. A major part of subscribers in India still utilise only voice services. The uptake of other value-added services (VAS) is still low. As Shukla notes, "The next level of growth has to come from non-voice services like mobile VAS, m-commerce, etc. once 3G is in place."



 
 
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