Even though the overall wireless subscriber base in the country shrunk by 9.37 million in January, mainly led by Reliance Jio, which lost 9.32 million users during the month, the active user base increased, indicating limited consolidation of SIM cards due to recent price increases. According to analysts, the increase in the number of active subscribers indicates that the impact of tariff increases on active users is limited, because mobile is an essential service. All mobile operators had increased their prices in December last year.
According to data shared by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), in January the industry’s active subscriber base grew by 5.9 million month-on-month, led by 4.2 million additions by Reliance Jio and 1.3 million by Bharti Airtel. Vodafone Idea, however, lost around half a million active subscribers. In fact, Reliance Jio’s Visitor Location Log (VLR) or active subscriber percentage jumped to over 90% for the first time since the company launched commercial services in September 2016. In January, Bharti Airtel had the highest percentage of active subscribers. at 98.18% on its network, followed by 90.68% from Jio and 86.30% from Vodafone Idea.
The decline in the overall wireless subscriber base is primarily due to the removal of inactive users from the network. For example, in the past six months, Jio has added 22 million active subscribers, thanks to which its share of active users has exceeded 90%. During the same period, the company removed 59 million inactive subscribers from its network. “With its share of active subscribers already at 91% and only 38 million additional inactive subscribers remaining in its base, the subscriber cleanup is unlikely to continue for long,” Jefferies said in its report.
Active subscriber additions were driven by B circles which accounted for 75% of subscriber additions. Jio led active subscriber additions in Metros/A/B circles, while Bharti Airtel additions were driven by B and C circles. Vodafone Idea’s active subscriber losses appear to be moderating and were at lowest since March 2021.
“The telecommunications industry has focused more on monetizing services by increasing tariffs and increasing the minimum cost of using mobile services. Despite rising rates, slowing consumption and rising phone costs, the industry was able to maintain its active subscriber base month over month, which we consider a positive indicator. We expect industry subscriber additions to remain subdued in the near term as the market absorbs the recent price hike,” said Kunal Vora of BNP Paribas.
Another notable factor in January’s subscriber count is fixed-broadband additions. The number of fixed broadband subscribers for industry increased by 220,000 to 26.65 million. Jio’s market share grew to 18.1% and net additions stood at 260,000, while Bharti Airtel’s market share was 16.2% with net additions of 130,000. BSNL, state-run, lost 170,000 subscribers and its market share fell to 14.6%.