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General News Airtel, Idea Cellular add record subscribers in September, negating Jio impact
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Airtel, Idea Cellular add record subscribers in September, negating Reliance Jio impact

KOLKATA: Market leader Bharti Airtel and No 3 carrier, Idea Cellular have notched up record subscriber additions - 2.43 million and 1.91 million respectively - in September, their biggest in the past six months, negating any immediate impact of Reliance Jio Infocomm’s ongoing free services offer on the net adds front, with a slew of their own offers.

No 2 carrier, Vodafone's customer adds though were far lower at 0.52 million, according to latest GSM customer numbers collated by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and released Thursday.

Fringe players like Telenor India appear to have taken a hit from Jio's first month of operations, having lost as many as 3.67 lakh customers last month.

Analysts believe the robust customer additions for the incumbent carriers in September have been triggered by a mix of the sharp cuts in effective data rates and unlimited free voice call offers in some plans unleashed by them ahead of Jio’s launch.

Subsequent offers like Airtel’s allowing prepaid customers to use 1 GB of data on the company’s 3G or 4G networks for 28 days by paying Rs 1,498 upfront, and renewing the same for Rs 51 as many times as required, for up to a year, have also helped attract new customers, often at the cost of fringe players, they said.

“It’s possible that a fringe player like a Telenor, which doesn’t have a comparable 3G/4G presence, may have seen customers churn away and opt for data connections from the Big 3, especially after the latter slashed effective data rates by nearly 70% and backed it up with free voice call offers,” said an analyst at a foreign brokerage.

Telenor India declined to comment, saying it is in a silent period ahead of results.

Nitin Soni, director at rating agency Fitch, feels Jio’s launch has had little impact yet on incumbents’ customer growth since “bulk of the monthly net-adds, typically, happen in the Category B & C circles where Jio is yet to have a serious presence”.

“Jio’s free services offer should have a far greater impact on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea’s customer numbers in the third quarter, by when one would expect its subscriber penetration in the B& C circles to have increased significantly,” said Soni.

Sources close to Jio, however, maintain that the 4G entrant’s 16 million-strong subscriber base are already spread across the country and not merely confined to the urban markets.

Former Bharti Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor feels call maturity issues linked to Reliance Jio's continuing interconnect challenges with the three largest telecom companies may have also induced many to stay with the established players, working to the advantage of the incumbents.

“Though Jio has acquired 16 million customers in the first month, there is a high probability that customers opting for Jio are using it as a second SIM alongside their existing incumbent carrier’s primary SIM, which typically, reflects a multi-SIM phenomenon,” said Kapoor.

Robust customer additions by Airtel and Idea also appear to vindicate analysts’ views that the real impact of Jio’s free services – which started September 5 – will be felt in the October-December period.

Experts believe Vodafone’s modest show on the customer expansion front is due to its limited 4G footprint.

Ahead of Jio’s launch, India’s three largest telcos have been trying out multiple data-pricing strategies to ringfence top revenue-generating customers and attract new users. As the voice business has progressively plateaued -- though still accounting for around 80% of an incumbent’s revenue -- they had turned to pricier data services for growth and ramped up their 3G/4G presence.

Source:
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Airtel Digital HD Recorder / Kerala Vision Digital TV
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