By Mansi Taneja
This could be seen as a clear sign of consolidation in the telecom sector after the Supreme Court's February 2 order on cancellation of 122 new licences.
The three companies' share in total GSM subscriber additions has seen a dramatic surge from 46.2 per cent in January and 59.2 per cent in February this year.
|GAINING FROM LICENCE CANCELLATIONS|
|Mobile Number Portability numbers for January-March' 12|
The revelation comes in the latest data on GSM subscriber base, released on Saturday by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). The trio together added 5.5 million new users in March, while the share of new operators - Uninor, Videocon, STel, Etisalat, among others - stood at 15.1 per cent of the total additions. While Uninor was the only new operator to have added subscribers in the month, Videocon lost some of its users and there was no change for STel and Etisalat. These players' share in net addition of new players had stood at 33.1 7 per cent in January and 30.7 per cent in February.
For Bharti Airtel, at 2.5 million, addition in user base was the highest in the last 12 months.
A consolidation trend is also seen in the mobile number portability (MNP) numbers that telecom operators give to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. These numbers show that Bharti, Vodafone and Idea have seen windfall gains in subscribers since the Supreme Court order on licence cancellations.
The three telecom biggies together gained 953,764 users through MNP in March, compared with 440,116 in January. Bharti Airtel's addition of users through the route stood at 426,129 in the month, compared with 193,785 in January this year. Similarly, Vodafone gained 271,292 subscribers through MNP in March - which is close to three times the 97,702 new users it had added January. For Idea Cellular, the net gain in subscribers stands at 256,343 for March, against 148,629 in January.
Under MNP, a subscriber can shift to another mobile operator without changing his number. The net addition/gain is calculated by looking at the difference between the number of subscribers leaving a network and those joining it.
Bharti had a total subscriber base of 181.3 million, Idea had 112.7 million and Vodafone 150.5 million at the end of March.
Uninor and Sistema Shyam, which have been impacted by the Supreme Court order, are losing subscribers through MNP, despite their aggressive campaigns and new tariff plans.
Among the impacted players, Uninor (a joint venture between Norway's Telenor and Unitech Group) and SSTL (a JV between Russia's Sistema and Shyam Group offering services under the MTS brand) have shown interest in staying in India, while some other foreign players like Etisalat (Etisalat DB in India) and Bahrain Telecom, which had a stake in STel, have already called it quits in the country.
For Uninor, the net loss of subscribers through MNP stood at 63,536 in March, against 22,202 in January.
Even as the net loss of subscribers for MTS through MNP has come down in March, - at 4,786 users, against 7,159 in January - the company remains in the negative zone, that is, more users are leaving the network than those joining in.
Uninor's total subscriber base stands at 42.4 million, while MTS' is 16 million.
The SC order had cancelled about 122 new licences issued in January 2008 by then telecom minister, A Raja, and asked the government to auction the vacated 2G spectrum. The impacted companies were also given the option of participating in the 2G auction and win back their lost licences.
Uninor expressed hope that its subscribers would return to its network after some clarity emerges in the sector. A Uninor spokesperson said: "Despite opportunistic trade commissions by some competitors to entice bulk port-ins, especially those of Uninor customers, we have seen an average port-out of 0.15 per cent of our total user base. As a standard practice, we do not hand out such commissions for port-ins. Our port-outs are by far outpaced by new subscribers joining Uninor where we have remained among the top three. When certainty around the alignment of our licence cancellation and auction dates returns, we are confident of winning back those subscribers as well, since Uninor does remain the most affordable and, therefore, attractive choice in the market."
SSTL attributed the churn through MNP as a result of clean-up of extremely low-usage customers.
A company spokesperson said: "If one looks at just the last three months, from January to March 2012, SSTL has nationally added over 800,000 customers, taking its overall base to about 16 million. While adding customers, special effort is being made to continuously add quality customers. The approach also strongly reflects the increasing customer confidence in SSTL. As regards MNP numbers, it is more a result of a clean-up of extremely low-usage customers."
The other new players, Etisalat DB and STel, had asked its subscribers after the SC order to avail of MNP and shift to other networks to stay connected. Etisalat DB lost 65,073 and STel 30,357 users in March, compared with 652 and 6,341, respectively, in January.
Since the launch of MNP on January 20 last year, Idea has gained the most number of users (2,759,754), followed by Vodafone (1,835,592) and Bharti (1,278,690). On the other hand, Uninor has lost 181,547, Etisalat 133,006, STel 95,874 and MTS 41,607 users till date.