Sectoral regulator Trai is likely to seek a clarification from incumbent operators — Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel — regarding the variation in the subscriber data. Both the operators share one set of subscriber numbers with Trai and another with investors. The numbers shared by Reliance Jio, however, do not differ.
Sources in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) told FE they are aware of the mismatch and will soon seek a clarification from the operators.
An official in Trai said operators have to report subscriber numbers as per the methodology given in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) licence conditions. Earlier too, some operators while reporting number of subscribers, were deducting inactive subscribers. Taking action on it, Trai had issued a direction to telcos in August 2017 to strictly adhere to the DoT methodology for reporting their number of subscribers.
For instance, for the December 2018 quarter, Bharti Airtel’s customer base stood at 340.25 million as per Trai data, but in its quarterly results, it showed the customer base to be 284.22 million. The company has not disclosed the customer numbers for the March quarter in its results but as per Trai data, the telco has a customer base of 325.18 million at the end of March 2019.
Similarly, Vodafone Idea’s subscriber base at the end of March 2019 stood at 394.83 million as per Trai data but in its results, the telco showed the base to be 334.1 million.
As per analysts tracking the telecom sector and sources in telecom companies, the numbers differ because of the methodologies used in calculating the subscriber base. While Trai takes into consideration live connections in a 90-day period, the operators take into account 30-day period and that too when a customer does a minimum recharge of Rs 35 in a month.
Bharti Airtel did not respond to a Financial Express query in this regard whereas Vodafone Idea said, “Our company recognises its subscribers based on certain usage threshold and accordingly such numbers are different from Trai published telecom subscription data.”
In the quarter ended December 2018, Bharti Airtel too had stated that the company has made certain reporting changes whereby it modified the customer base definition in order to represent only the subscribers who transact and generate revenues on the network.
“Consequently, all customers related KPIs have accordingly been changed without any restatements of the prior periods. This is a more stringent definition and better indicates the operating performance of the company and you will see that on this basis, Exit December average revenue per user (ARPU) at `118 is extremely healthy,” the company told analysts after the December 2018 quarter results.
Officials in Trai also feel that the incumbent operators have changed the methodology to calculate subscribers in order to show a better ARPU. However, for the reporting requirements, they are bound to follow the DoT licence conditions.