MUMBAI : The first full month of India’s coronavirus lockdown saw the exit of 8.2 million mobile users, led by urban subscribers, regulatory data showed.
While the urban mobile user base plunged by 9 million in April, when India witnessed an exodus of urban migrant workers to villages, the rural subscriber base rose marginally, according to data shared by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Uttar Pradesh was the only service area, where users grew by 1.29%. Every other service area reported a decline in mobile subscription.
Vodafone Idea Ltd lost 4.5 million subscribers, while Bharti Airtel lost 5.2 million subscribers. However, in the same month, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd added 1.6 million subscribers, one of its lowest monthly additions in two years. Reliance Jio now commands 33.85% of the wireless market share, while Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea have market share of 28.06% and 27.37%, respectively.
The number of telephone subscribers in India decreased from 1,177.97 million at the end of March to 1,169.44 million at the end of April, down 0.72%. Urban telephone subscription fell from 656.46 million at the end of March to 647.19 million at the end of April. However, rural subscriptions increased from 521.51 million to 522.24 million during the same period.
Reflecting the migration trends during the lockdown, the percentage of active mobile subscribers in their home locations dropped from 85.4% in the previous month to 83.3% in April. The month, marked by the large-scale migration of people from the metro cities to villages, saw urban wireless tele-density decrease from 138.41% to 136.22%. Rural tele-density increased marginally from 58.54% to 58.61%. Airtel continues to command the largest active subscriber share at 95.26%, followed by Vodafone Idea at 88.5% (compared to 92% in March) and Jio at 78.75% (compared to 80.93% in March). Jio commands 57.68% of the broadband market share, followed by Airtel (21.41%) and Vodafone Idea (16.47%).
Due to the lockdown, many low-end subscribers could not recharge from retail outlets, forcing telcos to extend the validity of their mobile plans.
In April, the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), which represents private telcos, requested various states to issue “requisite instructions in the state/UT to enable ‘mobile recharging retailers’ to open their outlets for offering telecom services to the public”, and also issue passes for movement of select staff who operate the outlets.
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had extended the validity for prepaid mobile accounts of low-income customers till 3 May, after Trai scrutinized the selective validity extensions. The value of such benefits is more than ₹600 crore, according to COAI estimates.