Aircel, Uninor lose users as GSM subscriber base grows marginally in Jan

Inability to bag spectrum in the November auctions and consequent scaling down of operations in many circles has meant that Aircel, Videocon and Uninor together lost 4.56 million GSM subscribers in January this year.

New Delhi: Inability to bag spectrum in the November auctions and consequent scaling down of operations in many circles has meant that Aircel, Videocon and Uninor together lost 4.56 million GSM subscribers in January this year. Now that Sistema Shyam Teleservices has also announced closure of 10 circles in India, this CDMA telco is also expected to prune its subscriber base significantly in the coming months.

In January, just when the three telcos were losing subscribers, market leader Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone were gaining new ones. According to data released by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) today, Idea gained the maximum number of new subscribers last month at 2.45 million followed by Airtel at 2.29 million new subscribers while Vodafone's gain was insignificant at 0.22 million.

Aircel, Uninor lose users as GSM subscriber base grows marginally in Jan

In January, Idea Cellular led subscriber growth by adding 2.45 million customers. AFP

Overall, the GSM mobile subscriber base grew but only marginally to 657.56 million in January against 657.16 million in December 2012, with net addition of 0.4 million new customers over the previous month. GSM subscriber growth, though marginal, is significant because any growth at all has come after two continuous months of decline in November and December 2012.

Also, if we take data for the last six months, it become clear that subscriber numbers grew only in two months - October and January but the decline in November and December was so steep that the January growth has still not taken the market back to the 676.3 million mark which was achieved in August last year.

In January, Idea Cellular led subscriber growth by adding 2.45 million customers over December, taking its total subscriber base to 116.4 million. The company had lost 0.197 million customers in December. Airtel added 2.286 million new subscribers in January, taking its total subscriber base to 184.19 million. Vodafone's subscriber base increased to 147.7 million with an addition of over 0.2 million customers.

However, subscriber base of Videocon dipped by around 0.13 million to 2.257 million in January. Aircel and Uninor lost 1.775 million and 1.4 million customers, respectively across the country in January. Uninor had 26,550 customers in Mumbai where it closed operations last week.

As per the COAI data, Airtel accounted for more than a fourth of the GSM market which means one in every four GSM subscriber was an Airtel customer. And Airtel together with Vodafone accounted for half the market. Idea and Aircel are the only remaining players of any significance, with market shares of almost 18 percent and close to 10 percent respectively.

Put it this way: Airtel and Vodafone are the clear market leaders, Idea is inching towards a fifth of the market while Aircel has one in 10 GSM subscribers. But among others, only BSNL counts with about 15% of the market; Uninor, Videocon and MTNL are mere fringe players.

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