India’s mobile penetration is only 51% – Gartner

India’s total mobile penetration is only 51%, international technology market research agency Gartner said, well below the official estimate of a teledensity of around 75% by the TRAI.

The number of mobile users in India increased by just 9% in 2011, hitting 638 million (63.8 crore) at the end of last year, the agency said. According to TRAI, India had 900 million mobile subscribers in January this year.

The discrepancy may be explained by the fact that TRAI depends on the subscriber declarations made by the mobile operators themselves, while Gartner does independent studies to verify the numbers.

Interestingly, the Gartner number is very close to the VLR number of subscribers given out by TRAI, which stood at around 647 million at the end of December. The VLR number includes only those subscribers who are switched on and logged into the network.

In other words, the remaining 250 million users are in fact ‘dormant’ ones who own more than one connection, but don’t use all of them at the same time.

Gartner’s mobile penetration number of 51% also puts India far behind China, which has an estimated 71% mobile penetration.

India will take till 2016 to reach 72% mobile penetration, while China will reach 119 percent by then.

The Gartner report also noted that the average Indian mobile bill was $3.33 (Rs 165) per month in 2011. This, it noted, was about a third of what the average Chinese mobile user paid per month.

However, the average bill size (ARPU) began to stabilize in 2011 – “a notable change from the double-digit decline of ARPU between 2008-2010,” it noted.

Telecom tariffs have fallen from around Rs 2 per minute 4 years ago to about 0.30 per minute now, due to competition and higher volumes.

Total revenue in the Indian mobile market were around $25 billion at the end of 2011. This will reach US$30 billion in constant US dollars in 2016, Gartner said.

India’s fixed broadband household penetration was 6 percent in 2011, which is lower than the overall penetration in emerging markets (estimated at 16 percent in 2011), Gartner added.

Mobile data revenue has tremendous growth opportunities in India because of low Internet penetration. With consumers perceiving mobile broadband as a basic necessity, mobile operators globally are reaping their investments in infrastructure through an increase in mobile data revenue.

“India could become the testing ground for innovative delivery and pricing models that could be replicated in other emerging markets. Mobile operators will need to focus on sound fundamentals such as improving the quality of service of mobile broadband,” the agency added.

“The industry is pegging its hope on market consolidation, which appears imminent in the aftermath of 2G license cancellations. Department of Telecom and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India have a pivotal role to play in removing uncertainties in policy-making, and license and spectrum management, so that the mobile operators can focus their energies on driving growth,” said Shalini Verma, principal analyst, Consumer Technology and Markets, at Gartner.