Prima facie, telecom sector incumbents Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd have done well to protect market share despite Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd’s relentless aggression. Subscription numbers released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) show that the Vodafone-Idea combine improved their share of active subscribers from 39% in March 2017 to 40.2% in January 2018. Airtel did even better, increasing its share by 470 basis points to 30.9%.
Reliance Jio increased its share by 580 basis points, which, of course, represents a much faster growth, given its low base. Its share in March stood at 7.8%. Each of these large companies gained at the expense of smaller firms.
One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
But holding on to subscriber market share, or even improving upon it, doesn’t count for much in a world where tariffs are declining. What really matters is the wallet share each telecom firm enjoys with customers who use more than one mobile connection.
From the looks of it, Reliance Jio is doing better than most incumbents on this count. It generates far more data traffic on its network than all of the other large telecom players combined. Pointing to this, analysts at JPMorgan India said in a 22 January note to clients, “Incumbents must do a lot more to become the data SIM of choice for a large mass of their sub-base; Jio may have well established this positioning.”
According to an analyst with a domestic institutional brokerage firm, Reliance Jio is very likely to end up as the second largest telecom firm in terms of revenues in the March quarter. In the December quarter, it had already overtaken Idea’s revenues. Note that in terms of active subscribers, Reliance Jio was about 34-35% behind Vodafone and Idea at the end of December. This just goes to show that the active subscriber count has become less important in the current market environment.
In this backdrop, some analysts say it makes sense to look at trends in wireless broadband subscriptions more closely. The idea is that broadband customers generate higher ARPU (average revenue per user), besides which it is the segment which all telcos are looking to grow.
The data suggests Reliance Jio is leading the way here as well. So far this fiscal year, it has added 59.7 million customers, higher than what the other three large telcos have added cumulatively. Its share in the wireless broadband segment reached a high of 46.8% in January, up from 42.2% in March.
Analysts point out that over a third of Reliance Jio’s additions in January were likely on account of sales of its feature phone, where ARPU is lower than the company average. A clear picture of how market share battles have turned out will only come out when the telcos announce March quarter results.
For now, it is clear that the Reliance Jio juggernaut continues to roll on. The worrying bit is that the company is still miles away from its aspirational goal of a 50% revenue share of the market. As such, price competition can be expected to remain intense for some time to come.