India has now become the second country in the world after China to have over a billion mobile-phone subscribers, according to an announcement on Wednesday from the country’s telecom regulator, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). According to the federal regulator, as of October this year, the country has as many as 1.03 billion wireless subscribers, which is a 0.7 percent increase over September, 2015. The country’s largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, is believed to have over 200 million customers by itself, ahead of rivals such as Vodafone, Aircel and of course, the state-owned twins, BSNL and MTNL. By comparison, the US has under 400 million subscribers as of Q4, 2015, and the country’s largest wireless carrier, Verizon Wireless, has only about 137.5 million subscribers, although ARPUs in the North American country are significantly higher than in the South Asian nation.
While mobile tariffs in the country are among the cheapest in the world, they have gone up significantly in recent years, but with the imminent launch of Reliance Jio next month, tariffs are expected to at least stabilize in the foreseeable future, if not take a nosedive. For the uninitiated, Jio comes from the country’s largest conglomerate, Reliance Industries. The company has pockets deeper than just about all other carriers in the country put together, and has reportedly stockpiled a huge amount of spectrum already. The company is currently believed to hold the largest quantity of airwaves amongst all operators in India, and is the only carrier to hold a pan-India license for the 2,300 MHz band, which it intends to deploy for the roll out of its LTE services. The company carried out the soft launch on December 28th, which happens to be the birthday of the company’s founder, the late Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani, and will reportedly roll out its service commercially next month, as per reports in the mainstream media.
Currently, India has about 12 different carriers (including national and local ones), and with competition intensifying, some of the smaller carriers are already looking at mergers and/or acquisitions to stay relevant in the highly competitive market. So much so, that last month, credit rating agency, Fitch, downgraded the outlook for the industry from ‘Stable’ to ‘Negative’, going into 2016. According to the agency, the Indian wireless sector is on the cusp of a major shakeout over the course of the next year or two, whereby more than half the companies will either have to exit the business, or be open to getting acquired by a larger carrier. It remains to be seen how it goes for the stakeholders, but consumers are likely to lap up the expected lower tariffs, at least in the short term.