Is India’s war for subscribers hotting up – again?

Is India’s war for subscribers hotting up – again?

It looks like the war for subscribers in the highly competitive Indian market is about to hot up – yet again – after a new pronouncement from Gopal Vittal, Bharti Airtel CEO for India and South Asia.

According to India’s Economic Times, Vittal suggested in a recent communication to the company’s more than 16,000 employees that Bharti Airtel’s aim is to gain a revenue share of over 35 per cent of the market – from around 29 per cent at the moment – by attacking the weak spots of rivals Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea.

This strong stance follows three years (since the entry of Reliance Jio) in which eight main private sector players have become three and in which Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio have eaten into Airtel’s subscriber base, once close to 345 million and now around 281 million.

The focus, Vittal suggested, should now be on both net 4G additions to gain more data revenue and on improved ARPU. Airtel’s mobile business in India has been loss-making in recent quarters but better ARPU – thanks to removing low-ARPU or inactive users – has helped to improve its situation.

What the ‘weak spots’ of the two other operators may be and how they will react to the Bharti Airtel CEO’s comments is hard to say. Vodafone Idea has had to deal with network integration issues after its formation from the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular and has financial problems of its own, so could be vulnerable. However, Jio is still maintaining its aggressive pricing.

Adding 4G subscribers appears to be a key consideration for all three companies. However, the ongoing concerns over 5G spectrum affordability are surely also weighing on the rival operators.

Nevertheless, if Bharti can really prove itself ready to take on its competitors with a view to regaining market share, the next few quarters promise to be interesting – to say the least.

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