Call drop! Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel lose over 24 million users in three months

Call drop! Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel lose over 24 million users in three months

The top two incumbent operators — Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel — have lost over 24 million subscribers in just three months as the telcos try to weed out low revenue paying customers from their network.

The country’s largest mobile operator by subscriber, Vodafone Idea lost around 20.57 million subscribers in September to November period whereas Bharti Airtel was leaner by 4.22 million users during September and October. Airtel though added 101,534 subscribers in November.

The operators are likely to lose more low average revenue paying users in the coming few months as they rationalise their tariff plans. The lowest integrated (voice and data) tariff plans for both Airtel and Vodafone Idea now start at `35. Data for September and October was sourced from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) whereas November figures were taken from Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

As per analysts, around 70-90 million customers will be impacted by the move of older telcos to increase the cost of lowest recharge packs. Most of these subscribers have an ARPU (average revenue per user) of low double digits and mostly use the phone number for receiving calls.

After the rationalisation, many of the customers are expected to close their numbers as voice calls have now become free across operators. Possibly these subscribers have a dual SIM and one of them is a Jio connection which they may now make their primary number. However, in case of Jio also the minimum prepaid plan starts at `149 with a validity of 28 days. Even for Jio phone plans, where customers have to buy the device, the lowest plan starts at `49.

State-run BSNL and MTNL are now the operators who offer lowest tariff plans with long term validity. BSNL currently offers special tariff vouchers of `7, 9 and 18. The telco also has a `136 plan with a validity of two years. In fact, BSNL has added 363,991 customers in October.

Analysts expect that over time the ARPU of incumbent operators will rise because of rationalisation of tariffs and the impact can be seen in the quarters to come. Reliance Jio is the only operator which has been adding over 10 million subscribers every month. At the end of October, the subscriber market share of Jio stands at 22.46% with 262.75 million customers. Vodafone Idea with 427.60 million subscribers commands a share of 36.55% whereas Airtel’s customer base has decreased 29.20% to 341.65 million.