Rural India hits speed dial on road to mobility

Written by Sukalp Sharma | Sukalp Sharma | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 19 2011, 12:11pm hrs
Rural India is hooked to the mobile phone so much so that it has overtaken urban India on number of subscribers as well as active connections, reveals India Mobile 2011, a Juxt Consult survey exclusive to FE.

Of a total of 407 million-plus mobile phone users in the country, there are over 218 million rural mobile subscribers compared with 188 million urban subscribers, while the connections are pegged at 269 million for rural India, against 218 million for urban India.

The holistic land survey with more than two lakh participants across all 23 telecom circles of the country was conducted between April and mid-June, and pegged the growth in the number of mobile subscribers at 34%, with 103 million mobile users being added in the last one year, while active mobile subscriptions grew by 37% to reach 487 million. However, amidst the overall robust growth of mobile telephony in the country, rural India has scripted its own impressive story. Not only has it emerged as the largest market, but the growth shown by rural India in penetration and tele-density vis-a-vis urban India has also been impressive. Tele-density in rural India stands at 32%, which was just 21% last year. Urban India is much more tele-dense at 64%, as compared to 54% in 2010.

Similarly, while household level penetration jumped from 48% to 71% for rural India, urban India had 89%, just 1% up from the 2010 figure. The lower income class (monthly household income below R6,250) is now the single largest mass of mobile users in India with 40% users, again hinting at the growing dominance of the rural market. What further substantiates this assertion is the fact that the survey found SEC R4/R5 combine in the rural areas and SEC E in urban areas showing the highest increase in user base in the last one year, suggesting deepening of mobile penetration.

This heady concoction of a speedy rate of growth and the still unexploited potential in good measure of the rural market is whats seducing mobile manufacturers and operators alike, considering urban India is facing saturation, with latest Trai figures pointing at a tele-density of 150% in 21 circles of urban India. Himachal Pradesh has the highest urban tele-density of 430.55%, while Delhi has 209.88%, according to Traidata. Even GSM subscriber additions have been on the decline for six consecutive months, pointing at the highly saturated urban market.

To be sure, there is a yawning gap between sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) data and the findings of the Juxt survey. According to the latest available Trai figures, as of June end, total number of wireless subscribers in the country stands at 851.70 million, of which 66% are urban subscribers while 34% are rural subscribers. Wireless subscription in urban areas stands at 562.12 million, and 289.57 million for rural areas. However, latest VLR (visitor location register) data by Trai puts the number of active subscribers at 594.77 million, out of the 851.70 million total subscribers. VLR does not capture the rural/urban split.

All these Trai figures are substantially higher in all respects than the findings of the Juxt survey, which pegs the total number of active mobile subscribers at just 407 million, with 218 million rural and 188 million urban subscribers. So why this difference in statistics

The reason is that our figures are based on a location-based survey, wherein we capture active subscriber at his/her place of usage whereas Trai urban/rural data is based on service operators reported figures based on the location of sale of the connection. And it is very likely that rural users tend to buy connections from a nearby towns, explains Sanjay Tiwari of Juxt. This difference in figures is also evident in the mobile teledensity figures, which are pegged by Trai at 71.11% (Urban:155.96%; Rural: 34.58%). The Juxt survey finds the mobile teledensity at just 40% (Urban: 61%; Rural: 32%).

Only 8.58 million GSM users were added in June, which is the lowest in 31 months, as per the latest data released by Cellular Operators' Association of India. In the handset space, the Juxt survey reveals that 82% of all mobile handsets are claimed to have been bought at below the price point of R3,000, with rural areas having an average buying price of just R2,078, again indicative of the low-cost handset market swelling in the country fuelled by rising demand in rural India. India now has 446 million active mobile handsets, 26% more than the number in 2010. The dual-sim handset rage has translated into 5% of all handsets in the country being 'dual SIM', at 22 million.

The Juxt survey further states that multiple-SIM users grew by 20 million in the last one year to touch 65 million, an increase of 44%. It also points at flattening of use and drop in mobile spends with average monthly spends on 'most-used connection' down by 11% to R215, as compared to R242 last year, with as many as 77% connections yielding R0-200 in monthly spends. The daily average talk time is up, but only marginally, from 23.5 minutes in 2010 to 24.7 minutes this year.