Vodafone Idea lost a whopping 63.53 lakh (6.35 million) subscribers in March — one of the highest ever monthly shrinkage of its user base.
March 2020 also saw Bharti Airtel lose 12.62 lakh subscribers.
During the month, Reliance Jio added 46.88 lakh users, which is comparatively lower than the numbers that the company had been posting through the last two years. That slowdown may be due to the price increase implemented in late last year, since when subscriber additions have slowed.
The March loss is not the biggest ever reported by Vodafone Idea, which lost a whopping 3.64 cr users in November last year.
The exodus of subscribers was consciously triggered by Vodafone Idea more than a year ago in the belief that low-paying customers are a burden on the company’s network.
To eject low-spending subscribers, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel annulled the policy of providing ‘lifetime incoming calls’ free of charge, and started cutting off the incoming call service to those who did not spend at least a certain threshold amount on their phone bills every month.
While the loss of subscribers quickly stabilized for Bharti Airtel, it has proven to be more difficult to control for Vodafone Idea.
Delays in getting a clearance from the government for merging the company’s two networks — Vodafone and Idea — also added to the company’s woes and benefited its rivals.
However, the company has announced in recent days that it has managed to merge the two networks in about 92% of its districts, which should mean that about 80% of its subscribers are on the combined network.
The company has been keen to complete the merger of the two networks so that users can take advantage of a more powerful data network with higher data speeds.
Even though the company has more spectrum than all its competitors including Jio and Airtel, it has not been able to leverage the same due to two factors.
First was the delay in the pooling of this spectrum, which is held via two different networks, to create a combined, powerful network.
The second is that its capacity spectrum lies in band 41, an LTE band that is not supported by many, if not most, of the 4G handsets in use in India.
However, to stem the exodus of subscribers, the company in March started offering the cheapest 4G data plans in India by a wide margin.
Today Vodafone Idea sells 1 GB of 4G data at just Rs 1.95, while rivals like Jio and Airtel charge at least Rs 3.57 per GB.
It remains to be seen if this ‘Double Data Offer’ has managed to arrest the outflow of subscribers to rival networks.
Meanwhile, the company did indicate that it saw a much sharper uptick in data usage on its network during the COVID-19 lockdown than its rivals.
However, more details about the effectiveness of the ‘Double Data’ strategy will be known only when the company reports its numbers for the April-June quarter or its subscriber numbers for April.