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Despite industry-wide wireless subscriber gains, urban subscriber base continues to shrink: TRAI data

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Ayushi Kar | Mumbai, May 14 | Updated on: May 14, 2022

The wireless subscriber base registered a growth for the first time since the industry-wide tariff hikes

While the overall wireless subscriber base in India registered a growth for the first time since the industry-wide tariff hikes taken by the top three telecom operators—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea—urban subscription rates have dipped, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s monthly telecom subscriber data for March. .

The urban wireless subscriber base saw a decline of 0.15 per cent to 624.23 million in March (from 625.19 million in February end). Rural subscriber base saw its first uptick in three months, growing at a monthly rate of 0.29 per cent (from 516.34 million to 517.86 million). Cumulatively, the wireless subscriber base grew at a monthly rate of 0.05 per cent to 1.142 billion in March.

Customers react positively

The general consensus amongst the industry has been that the 20-25 per cent tariff hikes effected by the industry in November 2021, have been taken well by Indian consumers.

As per the operators’ public comments, subscriber churn has mostly stabilised, and Jio’s subscriber cleanup has also likely stopped as the telco posted subscriber gains of 1.2 million subscribers in March 2022.

However, the decline in urban subscribers continues, although it is tapering down. According to TRAI monthly reports, in December, the urban subscriber base declined by 0.80 per cent; in January the urban base saw a decline of 0.98 per cent. The urban subscriber base shrunk by 0.31 per cent in February, and according to the most recent TRAI report, urban subscription shrunk by 0.15 per cent in March. 

Experts observed that people residing in urban areas needed additional connectivity during the pandemic as working/studying from home was necessary. But now, with additional costs due to rising tariffs and the pandemic situation easing, urban geographies continued to see subscriber loss. 

Vodafone Idea lose subscribers

India’s wireless base overall, however, saw growth in March. Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio added 2.2 million and 1.2 million subscribers, respectively. Vodafone Idea continues to bleed subscribers, losing 2.8 million subscribers in March. 

Vodafone Idea CEO, Ravinder Takkar had said in the earnings call earlier this week that there needs to be another tranche of industry-wide hike in tariff rates soon. The telco wants to increase its average revenue per user to ₹200 in the short term.

Takkar believes that consumers can take one or two tranches of further hikes without hurting their pockets.

However, the country has registered its highest monthly inflation rate in April since 2014. Retail inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), grew at 7.79 per cent in April , as per data released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) on May 12. Therefore, it is uncertain, whether the cash-strapped operators will be able to go ahead with another tariff hike soon. 

Published on May 14, 2022

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