As India feels the shockwaves of the so-called ‘2G scandal’, the operators are busily rolling out their 3G networks
India continues to be one of the fastest growing major telecom markets in the world. It is also one of the largest. Sweeping reforms introduced by successive Indian governments over the last decade have dramatically changed the nature of telecommunications in the country. The mobile sector has grown from around 10 million subscribers in 2002 to pass the 750 million mark by the end of 2010 and the market was growing strongly into 2011. The boom in the mobile industry is expected to continue at least into the medium term. The fixed-line market, however, which had grown strongly for a while, has been experiencing zero and negative growth of late. in the meantime, there has been a fresh effort made to promote broadband internet access throughout the country; after a period in which broadband development languished – and the government became concerned – there was new hope for a serious expansion phase in this segment of the market.
A number of factors have been responsible for the amazing growth in India’s telecom sector; apart from the obvious booming economy and the rapid expansion in the country’s middle class, the growth drivers include low tariffs, low handset prices and most notably a highly competitive market created by the government and the regulator. The government has continued to open the market up to more and more competition. Home to a clutch of global operators working with local companies, the government has continued to issue licences to new telecom operators. Competition in the market place has become even more intense over the last year or so. The launch of Mobile Number Portability (MNP) in 2011 added yet another dimension to this intensely competitive market.
While the mobile subscriber base was continuing to grow at an annual rate of around 40%, Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) has been steadily declining as competing operators offer cheaper tariffs; at the same time usage levels have remained reasonably high thus slowing the decline in revenues. There has been a major push in recent years to take mobile services into the poorer and rural areas of the country; this has also weighed heavily on ARPUs.
In 2010 the long-awaited 3G auctions finally took place. By year end and into 2011 the 3G networks were being rolled out on a large scale and the operators started delivering next generation services to customers. 3G has certainly provided yet another boost to the already huge mobile sector. Apart from the impact on the mobile market itself, the 3G spectrum auction earned revenue of US$14.6 billion for the government, an amount that far exceeded expectations and was welcomed by the government as a major contribution to improving the national deficit. All things considered the mobile industry should continue to grow for the time being.
With only around 3% fixed-line penetration, India has nevertheless achieved a remarkable national coverage, with 98% of the population having some form of access to a telephone. The heavy investment in telecoms infrastructure over the last decade has seen India’s huge population delivered at least some level of telephone service. At the same time major difficulties persist. Fixed-line subscriber numbers stood at 33 million by early 2011, but a continuing decline in this segment of the market was evident. The future of fixed lines remained uncertain.
With the government continuing to push to complete the restructuring of the telecommunications regulatory regime, the opening up of the market to full scale competition has been dramatic. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) remains committed to further structural reforms. The adoption of Unified Licensing, a change in the Access Deficit Charge regime, and the encouragement of increased infrastructure sharing, especially towers for mobile networks, were all contributing to ongoing growth. Another important initiative has been the Indian government’s revised Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy which increased the foreign ownership cap from 49% to 74%. If anything it could be said that the regulation of the market has been overly enthusiastic; there being some signs that the market was starting to suffer from the complexity of the regulatory regime. In parallel with the regulatory change process, there has been a continuing evolution of the market through a series of mergers and takeovers among the mobile operators that has initially resulted in a welcome and productive consolidation.
One segment of the market that continued to puzzle the observer – and the government – is broadband Internet. Despite the obvious enthusiasm for Internet access to be found across the country, India’s move into high-speed broadband Internet has been noticeably sluggish. The TRAI in describing the situation in 2010 noted that ‘… the performance so far has not been up to the expectations’. The regulator’s reference point was the targets set in the government’s National Broadband Policy issued in 2004, with growth falling well short of these targets. By 2011 broadband Internet penetration in India was still a low 1%, with these broadband services accounting for about 65% of the total Internet subscriber base. In other words, coming into 2011 there were less than 12 million broadband subscribers in a country of 1.2 billion people. In the meantime, somewhat paradoxically, the overall level of Internet usage seems to be growing strongly, perhaps boosted by the widespread use of Internet cafes and other points of public online access. There were in excess of an estimated 70 million Internet users throughout the country by January 2011, this representing a penetration of almost 6%.
- Into 2011, growth in India’s mobile market was continuing in its boom mode;
- By April 2011 the country had 827 million mobile subscribers, for a penetration of 69%;
- The mobile market was continuing to expand at an annual rate in excess of 40% into 2011;
- GSM was strengthening its position as the dominant mobile technology with 85% of the mobile subscriber market, as CDMA slipped further behind;
- The number of broadband Internet subscribers is finally on the increase, reaching 12 million for a penetration of 1% by population as at April 2011;
- DSL, whilst holding around 85% of the local broadband market, was steadily losing market share to other non-DSL broadband platforms, especially to wireless broadband platforms;
- After auctioning 3G spectrum licences in 2010, India was finally witnessing the large scale roll-out of 3G networks by operators across the country coming into 2011;
- The 3G auction delivered US$14.6 billion in revenue to the government and was certainly an unqualified success in this respect;
- An equally high profile auction of wireless broadband spectrum followed the 3G auction in 2010 and pumped even more energy into an already invigorated wireless broadband market;
- This auction raised another US$8.2 billion in revenue for the government.
India: Key telecom parameters – 2010 – 2011
|Total No. of subscribers||35.1 million||34.0 million|
|Fixed-line penetration (population)||3.3%||2.9%|
|Fixed-line penetration (household)||18%||18%|
|Total No. of subscribers||11.0 million||15.0 million|
|Broadband subscriber penetration (population)||0.9%||1.2%|
|Broadband subscriber penetration (households)||4.7%||6.0%|
|Total No. of subscribers||752 million||980.0 million|
|Mobile penetration (population)||63%||80%|
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