A roadside vendor selling cotton candy talks on a mobile phone in Alibag, Maharashtra. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Reliance Jio Makes Big Inroads In Rural India 

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. added the highest number of rural users among rivals in April as billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s upstart grows beyond cities riding on the success of its low-cost JioPhone.

India’s newest telecom operator added 96.3 lakh subscribers in April, the highest in the last 14 months, data provided by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed. Nearly 41 percent, or 39 lakh, of the additions were rural subscribers—the highest among Indian mobile operators. Its rural user base has been growing steadily.

The 4G-enabled JioPhone is India’s highest selling feature phone, according to CounterPoint Research. Within a year of launch, the device now accounts for nearly 36 percent of the market. The Rs 1,500 handset allows connectivity to 4G VoLTE networks, and comes bundled with apps to stream TV programmes and music. That only intensifies the battle for supremacy in the world’s second-largest telecom market triggered by Reliance Jio’s cheap data.

A woman talking on her mobile phone  (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
A woman talking on her mobile phone (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Still, Airtel has the highest number of rural subscribers at nearly 16 crore—about thrice that of Jio’s 5.4 crore.

The data released by TRAI also points to a 5.8-crore drop in total telecom subscribers in India, which can be attributed to insolvent Aircel stopping services and not reporting its numbers. All the major operators, save for Vodafone India Ltd., added customers. Vodafone’s user base declined for the first time in seven months.

All other smaller operators reported a fall in their customer base, with state-run BSNL being the exception. The combined customer base of Reliance Communications Ltd., Tata Teleservices Ltd., MTNL and Telenor fell by 39 lakh in April.

While Tata Teleservices and Telenor have stopped services, the Anil Ambani-owned RCom sold its assets and will operate as a virtual network operator.

Reliance Jio’s customer market share is now above 17 percent – 183 basis points away from Idea Cellular Ltd. Customer market share expanded for all the operators.