The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, working in association with IBM, has completed a series of blockchain-based pilot projects to improve the country's mobile network. Photo: iStock
The Indian government has made new changes to the rules on telecom payments. Photo: iStock

India’s second-largest telecom company Bharti Airtel continues to gain subscribers while market leader Reliance Jio and ailing Vodafone Idea lose customers, according to new data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Bharti Airtel gained 1.59 million users in February, taking its total subscriber base to 359 million, while Reliance Jio lost 3.66 million users to end the month at 402.73 subscribers. Debt-ridden Vodafone Idea lost another 1.53 million users, taking its total subscribers down to 264 million.

Both Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea have lost customers for the third consecutive month. Reliance Jio lost 9.3 customers in January and 13 million users in December. Vodafone Idea lost 389,082 customers in January and 1.61 million in December. In contrast, Bharti Airtel gained 475,000 customers in December and 714,199 users in January.

The telecom regulator data also showed that overall wireless subscriptions declined in both urban and rural areas compared to January. In urban areas, the total wireless subscription in February was 625.19 million, down from 627.12 million in January, while in rural areas it decreased to 516.34 million in February, from 518.13 million in the preceding month.

Market analysts note that a tariff hike of around 20% by all carriers in November has led to many customers surrendering or pausing recharges of their additional connections. They estimate the downtrend will continue until March 31, when the full impact of the tariff comes into force.

At the same time, there has been a steady rise in the average revenue per user of all carriers. Bharti Airtel topped the list with an average revenue per user of 163 rupees per month, followed by Reliance Jio (158 rupees) and Vodafone Idea (115 rupees). This has improved the profitability of all telecom firms.

For nearly five years, the market faced pricing pressure due to the rock-bottom tariff offered by Reliance Jio. The Mukesh Ambani-owned company entered the market in 2016 and immediately offered connections at low prices, along with many freebies.

This had caused widespread disruption in the market and many companies like Tata Teleservices, Uninor, and Reliance Communications, owned by Mukesh Ambani’s younger brother Anil Ambani, have exited the market.

After two false starts, India is planning to hold a 5G spectrum auction later this year. During 2016 and 2021 auctions, more than 60% of the spectrum remained unsold.

This time the Telecom Regulatory Authority has recommended a 36% cut in the reserve price for the prime 5G frequency of 3.3 to 3.67 GHz band for pan-India use. However, the industry had earlier demanded a 90% cut in the reserve price.