Jio, Airtel make gains in India as Vi loses further ground

  • India had more than 1.1 billion wireless connections at the end of June
  • Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel together command a market share of more than 70%
  • Vodafone Idea (Vi) continues to lose mobile subscribers as its share dips to just 20%

The latest market statistics from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) tell the now familiar tale of a massive mobile market increasingly dominated by two major privately-held operators, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, which, between them, now command a market share of more than 70%. 

Not so many years ago there were more than a dozen mobile operators competing for customers in India, but the arrival of Reliance Jio as a greenfield 4G service provider in September 2016 turned the market on its head: Now, in a market that according to TRAI counted 1.143 billion mobile connections at the end of June, there are only four operators with any meaningful market share and only two that are growing. 

The ones that continue to add to their subscriber tally are the dominant market leaders, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, and it’s hardly a coincidence that they are the only two with any commercial 5G services on offer right now, though it’s not clear how many customers have signed up for their 5G services so far. 

Jio added 2.27 million customers during June to take its total to 438.6 million, giving it a market share of 38.35%. Airtel added 1.4 million connections to take its total to 373.7 million and a market share of 32.68%. 

Vodafone Idea, meanwhile, is in poor financial shape, has yet to launch commercial 5G services and is losing customers at an alarming rate. In June alone it shed almost 1.29 million mobile connections to take its total down to 229.6 million and a market share of 20.08%. Since the start of this year, it has lost 11.7 million customers and seen its market share decline by more than 1%. 

The fourth largest service provider, state-owned BSNL, is also struggling, though that’s nothing new. It is only now investing in a 4G network, at the same time as preparing itself for 5G, and trying to shore up its supporting network infrastructure, mainly with technology from domestic suppliers such as Tejas Networks, which recently landed a $901m deal to provide 4G/5G access network equipment to the operator. 

In June it lost 1.87 million connections to take its total down to 99.5 million and its market share to 8.71%. 

It’s hard to see these trends changing much in the near future, especially as Jio and Airtel have invested so much and so quickly into their respective 5G rollouts. 

The two operators have been powering ahead with their aggressive 5G deployment programmes and have already met their minimum 5G network rollout obligations for the initial 12 months of their licences. Between them, in less than a year, the two operators have deployed more than 308,000 5G base stations, according to statistics shared by the country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Jio pledged last year that it would blanket the whole country with 5G connectivity by the end of 2023, while Airtel said it would offer 5G services in the country’s urban and key rural areas within the same timeframe. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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