Reliance Jio may have stormed the market, first with its free offers and then with low charges, forcing incumbents to follow suit. It also created a record by garnering the fastest 100-million subscriber base. However, though the incumbents like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular may have got badly bruised in terms of revenue and profitability, they haven’t lost on subscribers to Jio.
Mobile number portability — the facility to retain one’s number while changing operators — does not show any material change with the coming of Jio. In fact, the pecking order in terms of gains by way of MNP remains intact with Idea Cellular at the top, followed by Vodafone and Bharti. Jio comes after them.
Jio’s net port-ins at cumulative 3.8 million between September 2016 and October 2017 is a very low proportion of its overall subscriber base (145 million at October 2017 end). During the same period the gains by Bharti stood at 9.1 million, Vodafone 6 million and Idea at 5.4 million. This shows that Jio is still not the primary number for the bulk of its customers. In fact, MNP data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India — cumulative port-ins and port-outs from MNP since inception in January 2011 until end-October 2017 — shows that the incumbents (Bharti, Vodafone and Idea) and Jio are the only net gainers from MNP. Idea tops the chart with 25 million cumulative net gains, Vodafone is second with 19.4 million net gains and Bharti third with 18.4 million net gains. Other operators put together have lost 66.6 million net subscriber with RCom (net loss of 21.5 million), TTSL (15 million) and Aircel (13.1 million) being the biggest losers.
Though Bharti still lags Idea and Vodafone on cumulative net MNP gains, it has been the MNP net-adds leader in the market since Jio’s launch (9.1 million net gains since September 2016 versus 6 million for Vodafone and 5.4 million for Idea). Bharti’s outperformance versus Idea and Vodafone has in fact gained pace in the past few months — between end-June 2017 and end-October 2017, Bharti gained a net 5 million subscriber versus around 2 million each for Idea and Vodafone. “Bharti’s relatively higher aggression in the marketplace and better LTE coverage are reflecting in these gains, in our view. MNP performance of Idea and Vodafone remains respectable; the two are perhaps gaining enough in their respective strong circles to mitigate the losses in the weak ones,” Kotak Institutional Equities observed in a report.
“Jio has seen its net port-in pace increase from around 0.1 million per month between September 2016 and June 2017 to around 0.7 million per month between June 2017 and October 2017. The contrast between these periods is important to draw. Until end-March 2017, Jio’s services were free and the customers did not really have to make a ‘which operator gets my spend’ choice. Once Jio started charging in April 2017, the customer has had to make a choice between similarly priced bundles of Jio and the incumbents,” Kotak noted. It said that the customer can of course choose to keep spending on both — Jio’s bundled plan and a low-value unbundled recharge of the incumbents. “Important aspect here is that Jio’s still low port-in numbers suggest that Jio has not yet become the primary number for a good proportion of its customers,” Kotak observed. By primary, the brokerage means the mobile number on which the customer gets one-time password from her bank.