Reliance Jio had the largest base of wireless broadband users with 102.84 million connections, accounting for 39.36% of total broadband connections in India (wired+wireless) as of February 2017, according to TRAI’s latest data (pdf). These are connections with download speed capability of more than 512 Kbps.

As of the end of February 2017, Jio had 102.84 million broadband connections (39.36% of total), Airtel had 46.69 million (17.87%), Vodafone had 32.06 million (12.27%), Idea Cellular had 24.31 million (9.3%), and BSNL had 20.81 million (7.96%) connections.

Thus, Jio had a broadband connection base that was:

  • 2.2 times that of Airtel
  • 3.2 times that of Vodafone
  • 4.2 times that of Idea
  • 1.8 times the combined broadband connection base of Idea and Vodafone (56.87 million), which are merging.
  • 4.94 times that of BSNL.

This TRAI data is from February, when Jio was still running a promotional scheme, and points towards non-paying connections only. Under that scheme, Jio had garnered more than 100 million connections, but the last available figure, when it started trying to convert these into paying connections, was that it had 72 million paid users in April. A more recent update on connections points towards 109 million paid+unpaid connections, which isn’t indicative of paying connections.

The top 5 broadband operators (wireless and wired) now own 86.76% of the market, up from 83.6% ownership as of February 2016. Competition in the industry is largely focused on the wireless or cellular segment and this has also impacted growth in the wired sector. The monthly growth rate of the wired broadband segment is 0.39%, which is much lower when compared to just 3.19% monthly growth rate seen in the wireless/cellular segment. Overall, there were 261.31 million (wireless+wired) broadband connections as of February, up 2.98% from 253.75 million in January.

Wi-Max, WiFi and other fixed wireless services are impacted

Interestingly, the growth rate of connections of fixed wireless services like BSNL’s Wi-Max and WiFi services offers by telcos have fallen -1.12% over the last month. In the same month last year, fixed wireless services were growing faster than the wireless segment with 3.96% monthly growth rate. The reason for the negative growth is simple: There is more investment in the cellular segment when compared to the wired segment and telcos are seeing more return via their wireless business.

More and more operators in the country are investing heavily into 4G after Jio’s entry which has 4G spectrum in all 22 circles it operates. As telco’s race to keep up with Jio, the wired broadband segment has been left out. There were only 18.18 million wired broadband users in February, compared to 242.57 million wireless/cellular users. The disparity is huge and is also a cause of concern.

Govt services dominate wired broadband

Government-owned service providers like BSNL and MTNL continue to dominate the wired broadband sector owning 74% of the market. BSNL had 9.95 million connections and MTNL had 1.03 million connections as of February. While private players like Airtel had 2.07 million users, ACT had 1.14 million users and Vodafone-owned YOU Broadband had 0.62 million users.

The wireless segment, on the other hand, was dominated by private players. The top 5 list of wireless broadband providers had no government players in it: As of February 2017, the top 5 wireless broadband providers were Jio (102.84 million), Airtel (44.62 million), Vodafone (32.05 million), Idea (24.31 million) and RCOM (14.04 million).

Telcos are focusing more on cellular since expanding a wireless network is easier when compared to wired. Laying down fiber cables in hilly terrains and remote areas requires a lot of capital and human work, so private players in the wired segment stick to metro and Tier-1 cities mostly. BSNL, on the other hand, has access to BharatNet infrastructure and uses it to expand services on a subsidised basis to rural areas. But the rate of expansion has been slow and probably, the government should look at opening BharatNet to private players for a faster rollout.