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WiLL warriors take battle into basic brigade’s camp

New Delhi, Dec. 2: There are statistics now to back up what has always been suspected. The great shift has begun in the telephony business.

Phone users have started junking their fixed-line phones for WiLL (wireless-in-local-loop) mobile connections.

Trai has come out with a customer-based study that shows that the WiLL segment has recorded blitzkrieg growth of 119 per cent in the three months till September 2003.

The surge in this segment has been at the expense of the two state-owned telephony majors — Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) — which have together lost 6 per cent market share to the five private operators offering WiLL connections

While the government-owned telecom companies have cornered a market share of 77 per cent and 10 per cent in terms of the subscriber base, the five private basic operators have a 13 per cent market share.

According to Trai’s performance indicators of the telecom services highlighting the trends for the financial year 2002-03, the WiLL brigade has been a major instrument in fuelling the growth of these five private basic operators.

Reliance Infocomm is the biggest beneficiary and has notched up 4.28 million users during this period. The company that operates in 18 circles added 2.46 million subscribers during the quarter July-September 2003.

The study relates to a period before the Union cabinet cleared the unification licence for the telecom industry and it won’t be wrong to surmise that this trend will get even further accentuated in the next few quarters.

Tata Teleservices is the second in line with 1.08 million subscribers, Bharti is at third position with 0.49 million customers. While the Tatas offer services in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Maharashtra, Bharti operates in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Delhi.

Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, which operates in Punjab, has a subscriber base of 118,000 and Shyam Telelink, the operator in Rajasthan, has 98,000 subscribers, says the Trai report.

Trai today announced good and bad news for cellular operators: the bad news is that the average rate per user (ARPU) — a key performance indicator — has declined by 1.14 per cent. The good news is that there has been a 10 per cent jump in the average minutes of use by the subscribers.

ARPU fell from Rs 522 to Rs 516 while the average minutes of use grew from 266 minutes to 298 minutes. This trend appears to emerge due to a gradual decrease in tariff for cellular services and increase in the usage.

The report says the effective charge of local call per minute rate dipped by 31 per cent in cellular service as per minimum tariff plan available in the market during the quarter ended September at 77 paise as compared with Rs 1.12 during the previous quarter. But there has been no change in the per-minute call for WiLL mobile services. The report also indicates that the mobile subscribers (WiLL-M and cellular combined) showed a growth of 33 per cent during the quarter to reach a total of 23 million.

The annual growth (September 2002 to September 2003) for the mobile segment increased to 164 per cent. A scan of recently reported popular cellular tariff plans have been added in this version of the report.

However, the fixed-line phones showed a negligible growth. The subscribers of basic service (fixed-line and WiLL-F) increased from 41.38 million to 41.74 million and that for mobile services (including WiLL-M) from 17.32 million to 23.03 million during the quarter.

The gross subscriber base of the basic and cellular services together reached 64.77 million at the end of the quarter ended September, 2003 from 58.70 million in June 2003, thereby showing an overall increase of around 9.37 per cent during the quarter.

The gross teledensity of the country grew to 6.48, indicating an increase of 10.4 per cent over the previous quarter. It is expected that targeted teledensity of seven planned for March 2005, will be achieved during the next quarter, more than 15 months before schedule.

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