People on bicycles pass a Jio store in Kolkata on July 13, 2020. Reliance Jio holds a virtual monopoly on telecom technology in India. Photo: AFP / Indranil Aditya / NurPhoto

A recent report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, a telecom sector watchdog, shows a fall in mobile phone users and a marginal decline in teledensity in December 2021.

According to the report, the number of wireless subscribers in India decreased from 1.16 billion at the end of November 2021 to 1.15 billion at the end of December 2021.

India’s leading telecom player Reliance Jio was the worst hit as it lost about 12.9 million wireless subscribers and its total mobile subscriber base is now 415.71 million.

The other major loser was Vodafone Idea, which lost another 1.61 million users. This loss-making company has been facing a continuous subscriber erosion over many months and its subscriber base now stands at 265.5 million.

On the other hand, Bharti Airtel added 475,000 customers and its wireless user base rose to 355.7 million.

However, Reliance Jio’s market share still remains the highest at 36%, followed by Airtel at 30.81% and Vodafone Idea at 23%.

Wireless subscriptions in urban areas decreased from 638.46 million to 633.34 million, a fall of 0.80%, in December, and in rural areas, it went down from 529.04 million to 521.28 million, a decline of 1.47%.

According to analysts, the tariff hike for prepaid plans by the three players in November was one of the reasons for subscriber numbers dropping. It must have led to SIM card consolidation by customers, with those having multiple connections surrendering some of them.

They also feel that the tariff hikes might have pushed low-income users to go to state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited. The company gained more than one million users in December, and it offers prepaid plans at a much cheaper price, although it does not offer high-speed 4G internet.

However, the fact that Bharti Airtel bucked the trend and added customers suggests it has stronger fundamentals over its competitors. According to the visitor location register, a key metric reflecting the number of active subscribers, Bharti Airtel had a score of 98.01%, while it was 86.74% for Reliance Jio and 86.64% for Vodafone Idea.

It is also suggested that Reliance Jio’s drastic fall was on account of its removal of low-paying users. The telecom giant lost about six million users in rural India. In contrast, Bharti Airtel lost 1.18 million and Vodafone Idea lost 970,000 users in rural areas.