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Bare-all signal for cellular operators

Calcutta, Sept. 11: Come September 30, the cellular operators will start reporting their revenue figures along with the subscriber numbers to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Billed as a move that would usher in transparency in the cellular industry, the measure is expected to bring an end to the doctoring of data on subscriber base.

“As per the guidelines all the operators have agreed to submit their quarterly revenue details to TRAI, which will be available both at TRAI and our websites,” said T. V. Ramachandran, secretary general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the apex body of cell operators.

In its circular to all the cellular mobile service providers, the telecom watchdog has asked them to furnish details of gross revenue from services and actual revenue net of interconnect charges from the quarter ending September 30. Till now the subscriber base was the main yardstick in the evaluation of operations in the quarterly performance monitoring report.

Reporting both the gross and net revenue data had been a contentious issue in the cellular industry since February, when the proposal of looking at numbers beyond subscriber base was first floated. Public sector telecom majors like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) opposed the move and argued that for revenue details they were answerable only to the Comptroller and Auditor General. A section of the private players joined the opposition and preferred keeping the scorecards close to their chests.

In the fiercely competitive Indian cellular market, the top 10 players share over 1 crore customers among them. Though the year-to-year subscriber growth hovered around 95 to 100 per cent, the revenue figures lagged behind, as the revenue growth remained sticky at around 45 to 50 per cent. The average revenue per user — the most important indicator of the health of a telecom company — in the country is around Rs 500, while the number is as high as $25 in matured markets.

“Subscriber base is the least important indicator if one wants to seriously assess viability of telecom operations. Besides, questions are often raised on the veracity of these data. With revenue figures also getting public, it will not only be easy to monitor the performance of a cell operator, the industry will also become more transparent,” Ramachandran added while welcoming the move.

“The move will indeed discipline the industry, as jacking up subscriber numbers will no longer remain a viable option,” observed an industry insider.

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