Telecom companies in India continued to purge inactive subscribers in December, with Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications losing 16 million, or about 12% of its mobile subscribers, during the month.
The trend has been continuing since June this year, when India’s total mobile subscriber base hit a record of close to 935 million, or about 77% of its population.
Since June, telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Communications and Idea Cellular have been deleting millions of their subscribers from their network for being inactive.
Before the current telecom policy, operators were given free mobile spectrum based on how many subscribers they were able to show on their books. The policy did not check whether the subscribers were active or dormant.
The policy was changed about a year ago, and the subscriber-linked allocation of spectrum was done away with.
Operators have been culling inactive subscribers ever since as doing so saves ‘numbering resources’ by freeing up telephone numbers for allocation to new subscribers.
As a result, from about 935 million mobile subscribers at the end of June, total wireless subscribers have fallen to just 865 million by the end of December.
Reliance Communications was the biggest loser in December, purging about 12% of its subscriber base or about 1.6 crore users, from its network. It had purged 20 million in July, and has been the most active in this regard so far.
None of the others have come close, but have also purged millions from their respective networks as well.
As a result, the proportion of ‘switched on’ subscribers in RCom’s network, as reflected by VLR data, has grown from 66% in June to 86% at the end of 2012.
The others have benefited too, with industry leader (in terms of having the highest proportion of active users) Idea Cellular seeing its ‘switched on’ percentage go from about 92.5% in June to 98.2% at the end of 2012.
For the industry as a whole, the percentage of active subscribers has risen from 74.5% in June to 81.14% at the end of December. About 700 million users were considered active at the end of December, indicating a penetration level of about 56%. The actual mobile penetration may be lower due to the use of dual-SIM phones. The official number is at 70.8% as it does not adjust for dormant users.