Airtel again on top; Jio's active subscriber numbers falling

India's leading telecom operator Bharti Airtel in April added more active subscribers than newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm for the first time since the latter's launch in September, said an Economic Times report citing analysts.

Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel notched up 2.6 million active subscribers, according to 'visitor location register' or 'VLR', in April compared to Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio's 400,000 active VLR customer additions, said brokerage Goldman Sachs, analysing data released by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Visitor location register is a key metric indicating the number of subscribers actively using mobile services.

According to Goldman Sachs, data subscriber additions (3G/4G) continue to see an uptick for Bharti Airtel. With Jio starting to charge for its services which it was initially giving free, it sees this number likely to stay strong for Airtel in the coming months as customers shift back to incumbents that have cut tariffs in response to Jio's offers.

The US brokerage expects incremental subscriber additions for Jio to remain a challenge in coming months, pointing out that the firm's 400,000 active (VLR) subscriber additions in April reflect ''its fourth straight month of deceleration''.

ICICI Securities echoed Goldman Sachs' view, saying that despite Jio's marginal pricing (with three months complimentary services on Prime membership), Jio's ''active subscribers as a percentage of total subscribers is constantly falling, with only 71 per cent in April, which is disappointing''.

This is the more so since Jio's active subscribers as a percentage of total subscribers ''were at just 63.1 per cent and 62.8 per cent in Mumbai and Kolkata, respectively'', it said.

In contrast, the quantum of active subscribers as a percentage of total subscribers of the top three telcos – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular – stood at nearly 98 per cent.

According to the ET report, sources close to the company did not give much significance to the VLR numbers, saying Jio's total base of paid customers had actually grown sharply from around 72 million in end-March to over 80 million in end-April.

They also reiterated that Jio had edged out all its peers by adding nearly four million new users to reach a consumer base of 112.55 million.