India’s mobile subscriber base dipped in September for the first time in six months. According to the telecom subscriber report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the subscriber base has shrunk by 3.6 million. The sharp rise in subscribers lost by Vodafone Idea contributed to the degrowth; meanwhile, other operators such as Reliance Jio saw lesser subscribers signing up for the service. 

Vodafone Idea continued to lose mobile subscribers in September; its user base declined by 4 million in September as it struggled to boost 4G operations. This decline in subscribers by Vi was nearly double the numbers reported by the company in August, when its subscriber base declined by approximately 2 million. Such a sharp uptick in subscriber loss comes at a time when the company has stalled its capex in 4G as well a 5G until they are able to raise additional funds. Vi is also struggling to pay  vendors such as Indus Towers and Nokia.

Usually, subscriber additions by Jio and Bharti Airtel can offset Vodafone Idea’s subscriber losses. However, Reliance saw a sharp decline in subscriber additions in September, adding 700,000 subscribers, compared to 3 million subscribers in August. Airtel maintains stable growth, consistently adding 300,000 to 400,000 additional subscribers every month. The likely reason for Jio’s decline could be lower end subscribers leaving on the back of tariff hikes.

These numbers come at a time when the industry is reckoning with another round of hikes in tariffs for mobile plans. Bharti Airtel initiated this move earlier this month, discontinuing the ₹99 plan in two circles, Gujarat and Odisha. Bharti Airtel has taken a 57 per cent hike in the two circles, and will subsequently hike tariffs in a phased manner nationwide. 

It is yet to be seen, whether the industry will follow Airtel’s initiative. The number of active wireless subscribers (on the date of peak VLR#) in September was 1013.97 million. The monthly growth rates of urban and rural telephone subscriptions were 0.08 per cent and -0.71 per cent, respectively, in September.