Price wars: Reliance Jio versus the rest in telecom battle

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For a sector seeing double-digit revenue growth over recent years, FY16 marked a reversal. At Rs 2 lakh crore, the sector grew by six% ; it was nearly double this in FY11-15. Revenue growth for the September was only 4.3% over the year-ago period.

What is hurting the sector, riding high on strong voice growth and robust subscriber addition, is intense competition over the past 18 months. What has aggravated this is the entry of Reliance Jio (RJio), offering free voice and data services, from September. Despite reduction in the number of operators in the recent mergers of Reliance Communications-Aircel and Airtel acquiring spectrum from Videocon, competitive intensity remains high.

Amid all this, the top three have consolidated their market shares and now account for 75% of the overall revenue pie. The September quarter number is up 200 basis points (bps) over the year-before period.

In fact, Bharti’s market share at 33% is at a seven-year high. Among the others, Vodafone has held on to its share of about 23.4%; Idea Cellular has slid. Revenue market share for Idea was down 50 bps year-on-year in the September quarter to 18.7%, partly attributable to its decision to raise prices in the March quarter.

Upping the game

These numbers will change, as RJio has adopted aggressive pricing (including an extended free trial period) to grab share. Since its September launch, the company has added 50 million subscribers — that’s 500,000 a day. The number, say analysts at Motilal Oswal Securities, is a third of the wireless broadband subscriber base and about 30% of Idea and RCom-Aircel’s overall subscriber base combined.

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