The Jio phone offer could propel Reliance Jio as the second largest urban mobile phone operator after Airtel, surpassing Vodafone's 95 million urban subscribers. Reliance Jio has a current subscriber base of 90 million in urban areas while Vodafone has 95 million urban subscribers and sector leader Bharti Airtel has 140 million urban subscribers.
''RJio has almost become the second-largest urban telecom operator by subscribers and has similar number of rural subscriber as BSNL,'' GV Giri of IIFL stated in a research report.
Reliance Jio has only just completed one year of operations and is set to overtake Vodafone to become the second-biggest operator in terms of subscribers in urban areas.
According to an analysis of the data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) there are about 680 million urban subscribers in the country.
RJio has also raced to 29 per cent subscriber share in the mobile Internet market as of the first quarter of 2018, with Bharti being the only other telco to have added data subscribers in the past year. According to IIFL, RJio may have by now overtaken Vodafone in the second quarter. The telecom regulator reports the actual numbers with a lag.
''RJio's urban subscriber base was marginally below Vodafone's as of June and we estimate RJio to have overtaken Vodafone in the second quarter, considering Vodafone's subscriber loss,'' Giri added.
According to Jio officials, users on RJio network consume more data than the combined usage on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the US.
RJio's entry into the telecom sector has been disruptive not just because of free voice calls but the way consumers started using data. Subscribers now use 4G data that is four times that average consumer used under 3G.
''Overall data usage has jumped 9x in the past year, with 4G accounting for more than 80 per cent of total data usage. India has more 4G subs than 3G or 2G data subs,'' Giri said.
The change in subscriber behaviour has forced two leading operators, Idea Cellular and Vodafone, to attempt merger while top operator Bharti Airtel has started looking for cheaper, faster models to survive.
However, according to Rjio officials, the impact on incumbents is short-term and finally, the entire industry will benefit as data consumption rises.