Idea Cellular overtakes BSNL to secure fourth place in Indian mobile market

Idea Cellular, the mobile service provider from the Aditya Birla group, has overtaken the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) to emerge as the fourth largest mobile operator in the country.

Idea, which started its life as Tata Cellular and later transformed itself to the Batata (Birla-Tata-AT&T) alliance, has been one of the fastest growing big operator in the country for the last 3 to 4 years. The firm’s strategy of expanding through acquisitions has seen it go from just one circle (under Tata Cellular) in Andhra Pradesh in 2000 to 22 circles at present.

The shifting of position has come three years after it more or less completed its national foot-print by buying out six licenses from the Modi group’s Spice Telecom in 2008.

According to TRAI, Idea Cellular added 1.8 million subscribers in May this year, compared to BSNL, which added just 0.8 million. As a result, Idea raced past the 92.83 million wireless subscriber mark of BSNL with 93.75 million subscribers of its own.

In May, Idea’s share of the total number of wireless subscribers in India rose from 11.12% to 11.16%, while that of BSNL’s fell from 11.12% at the beginning of the month to 11.05% at the end of it.

A year ago, BSNL had 11.6% while Idea had 10.8% of the wireless subscribers.

While it is good news for Idea, the fall from number 4 is yet another reminder to the state-owned BSNL that things are not going in the right direction at all. In fact, with 10.80% of the total subscribers, the Tata group is right behind the government company, threatening to pull it down to number six in not so distant a future.

For now though, BSNL can take solace in the fact that Tata managed to add just 0.39 million subscribers in May against its own 0.82 million. However, in the previous month, Tata had added 1.24 million subscribers while BSNL had added just 0.17 million.

Idea, in its rise to the fourth place, Idea (Tata Cellular of Andhra Pradesh) has made five acquisitions.

The first was that of Maharashtra and Gujarat, followed by Madhya Pradesh (from RPG) and in 2004, the most important acquisition of all — six circles from Escotel of the Escorts group.

This was followed by the Spice acquisition in 2008, which cost the company Rs 2,700 crore. Idea is one of India’s biggest 3G service provider, with services in 11 circles.

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