New telcos fail to connect

Telecom regulator Trai has found that despite a three-year run in the telecom sector, new entrants have failed to make any competitive impact. Trai’s data on market position at the end of November 2010 shows that the combined market share of six new entrants has barely crossed 5% after nearly three years of receiving their licences. On January 10, 2008, the DoT had issued 122 LoIs, mainly to non-telecom firms. Companies that received maximum licences with bundled 4.4 MHz spectrum include Loop (22 circles), Sistema (22 circles), Uninor (22), Videocon (22), Etisalat —earlier Swan (15 circles, including Bihar and MP acquired from Allianze) and S Tel (6). According to Trai’s, at pan-India level, Uninor has only 2.2% share of mobile subscriber market, while Sistema has 1.1%, Videocon (0.9%), Loop (0.4%), S Tel (0.3%) and Etisalat (0.02%). Mobile number portability (MNP) was seen as an opportunity for new entrants to attract high paying subscribers from existing operators, based on the promise of improved service, customer care and lower tariffs. However, early data belies this hope, as Videocon, Sistema and Loop have lost subscribers so far. Uninor is the only exception with mild gains. With subscriber base and market share at such low levels, it is clear that India’s telecom market is likely to prove impregnable for new entrants. Even before these 122 LoIs were given, India had six to eight operators per circle—th e highest level anywhere in the world. The evidence suggests that issuance of new licences has failed to impact the competitive landscape, improve quality of service or even lower tariffs. In fact, the most attractive per second pricing was launched by incumbent operators like MTNL, Tata and Reliance with others following suit. The total telecom subscriber base at the end of November 2010 was 764 million, of which 95% or 729 million were mobile subscribers.

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