Signage for Bharti Airtel Ltd. is displayed outside a store in New Delhi. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Airtel Adds More Broadband Users Than Reliance Jio For First Time

Bharti Airtel Ltd. has added more mobile broadband customers than Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. for the first time since September 2016—when the Mukesh Ambani-owned telecom company commenced operations.

India’s second-largest telecom company added nearly 1 crore mobile broadband users in January compared with Jio’s 93.2 lakh subscribers, according to data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

That fits well with the Sunil Bharti Mittal-led firm, whose average revenue per user declined by over 45 percent since Reliance Jio’s launch. Mobile broadband users, or the customers that predominantly use data, are high revenue generators as voice service is now free in India. The company is also removing low revenue generating customers from its network to boost profitability. All of this is expected to boost its revenue in the ongoing quarter.

Reliance Jio’s stormed India’s telecom market by first offering free data followed by cheaper tariffs, hurting revenue and profits of incumbent players. That prompted consolidation among larger rivals and exits by smaller firms.

The active user base of the Indian telecom market declined—by around 39 lakh—for the second consecutive month. Higher number of subscribers doesn’t necessarily mean better revenue. But it at least means that the customer is frequently using the service and the risk of losing that user is low.

Also read: Reliance Jio Adds 90 Times More New Subscribers Than Bharti Airtel

Yet, Reliance Jio added the most number of active subscribers overall, but at a slower pace partly due to lower sales of the JioPhone.

The operator added 63.2 lakh active users in January–the lowest in the last seven months. Bharti Airtel—which plans to raise nearly Rs 32,000 crore to pare debt—and Vodafone Idea lost nearly 45.6 lakh and 62.1 lakh active users as both the companies introduced minimum recharge plans.

For Bharti Airtel, the drop in active user base was the highest in at least the last 28 months.

Vodafone Idea has lost 3.5 crore users in the last nine months due to implementation of minimum average revenue per user plans and deteriorating network quality, possibly due to network integration issues, said Aliasgar Shakir, telecom analyst with Motilal Oswal.

Vodafone Idea’s active customer market share declined to 37.6 percent, while that of Reliance Jio rose to 23.5 percent. Bharti Airtel’s market share declined for the third consecutive month to 32.4 percent in January.

Also read: Q3 Results: Bharti Airtel Reports Surprise Profit, ARPU Rises

Reliance Jio’s wired broadband service, launched in August last year, is yet to take off on a large scale, according to TRAI data. Analysts had attributed this to expensive tariffs and lack of focus and execution among incumbent players and customer stickiness. The market is dominated by state-run BSNL Ltd. and MTNL Ltd.