Sudhanshu Ranade

Chennai, May 14

MORE than 30 million of India's total number of cell phones at the end of March 2005 (41 million) were in use by subscribers resident outside the country's four metros Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

The corresponding figure at the end of March 2004 was 18 out of 26 million; i.e., less than 70 per cent of all cell phones, as compared with more than 73 per cent this March-end.

Non-metro cell users increased by almost 65 per cent between March 2005 and March 2004. Growth in metros, at 38.5 per cent, was muted. From the data provided, it is not possible to determine the way non-metro cell users were divided up between the remaining million plus cities and other smaller towns. But, some comparison of the rate of growth of less developed areas vis-à-vis more-developed ones can be made.

Deducting metro as well as A circle users from the all-India total, we arrive at the figure of 15.1 million for March 2005, compared to 8.5 million for March 2004.

Non-metro A circle users, i.e. those in the relatively more developed States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, numbered 14.9 million in March 2005 against 9.7 million in the corresponding month last year.

This means a growth rate of 53.6 per cent for A circle users; and growth of more than 77.5 per cent for non-metro, non-A circle users.

C circle is comprised the relatively less-developed States of Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, other north-eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir.

This circle witnessed a 127 per cent growth over the period, from 1.1 to 2.5 cell phone users.

In other words there seems to be some sort of catching up process going on, with hitherto low cell density areas growing faster than those that have already achieved high levels of cell phone coverage.

To some extent this is on account of the small number of cell phone users in low cell density areas, which make even relatively small increases in cell user growth look large in percentage terms. Still, the rapidity with which the gap is being bridged is interesting.

At the all-India level, the total number of cell phone users at the end of March 2005 was 41 million, up 56 per cent from March 2004. With non-metros growing faster than metros, the less-developed States in C circle are growing fastest of all.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 15, 2005)
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