India now has 1.15 billion mobile connections

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Jan 12, 2024

  • India is now the largest country in the world in terms of population size
  • Its population stands at 1.43 billion, according to the UN
  • With little in the way of fixed network infrastructure, it’s a mobile-first country
  • The number of cellular connections currently stands at 1.15 billion and is still growing
  • Just two service providers command more than 72% of the cellular market

India, which is now the most inhabited nation on earth but with little in the way of fixed access communications infrastructure, is very much a mobile-first market when it comes to telecom and it’s worth noting from time to time just how massive that market is – India currently boasts more than 1.1 billion registered mobile connections, the vast majority of which are active, according to the latest market statistics from the country’s communications industry watchdog, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). 

With a population of 1.43 billion, which is just greater than that of mainland China, according to the United Nations World Population Dashboard, India had a mobile density of 82.54% at the end of October 2023 courtesy of its 1,151 million mobile connections. Of those, 1,045 million connections, almost 91% of the total, were in active use during the month of October, according to the TRAI’s VLR (visitor location register) statistics that show which lines have been in active use during any given month. 

The vast majority of those mobile connections are operated by just a few large service providers: As we’ve noted previously, in 2011, India boasted 15 mobile service providers that between them reported 771 million mobile connections (of which 549 million were ‘active’), and of those service providers, 11 had more than 5 million connections. Reliance Jio didn’t exist. When Jio launched its 4G services in September 2016, it started from scratch with no customers, but it launched a series of sign-up promotions that meant it was possible for customers to get services without paying for months on end and within six months it had signed up more than 100 million customers, despite rivals counter-offering their own low-cost deals.

Now Jio is (and has been for years) India’s mobile market leader. At the end of October, it boasted 452.4 million mobile connections, giving it a market share of 39.3%. And its customer base and market share are growing each month (Jio added almost 3.2 million connections in October alone). 

Bharti Airtel is its main rival. It ended October with 378.1 million mobile connections and a market share of 32.85%. It added almost 353,000 mobile connections in October. 

Together, Jio and Airtel command more than 72% of one of the world’s largest mobile markets and, having invested billions of dollars each very quickly in rolling out 5G networks and each attracting more than 50 million 5G customers within a year of launch, they are practically unassailable in the market. 

The country’s third-largest mobile operator, Vodafone Idea, has enormous scale in terms of its customer base and market share, but it is in deep trouble, financially and operationally, as we noted recently. It ended October with 225.5 million mobile connections for a market share of 19.59%, but it is shrinking. In October alone, its customer base shrank by more than 2 million and it doesn’t have a shiny new 5G service to attract the punters.

Neither does state-owned BSNL, the only other mobile network operator of any scale – in fact, it’s only just building out its 4G network after years of neglect. It ended October with 92.9 million connections for a market share of 8.08%, but it too is shrinking, having lost almost 632,000 customers in October.  

The big questions right now for India’s telecom sector are whether Vodafone Idea can survive, whether the new public funding being pumped into BSNL is being wasted, and whether a country the size of India is best suited to being dominated by just two very well funded and powerful telcos. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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