Only 70pc are active mobile connections in India


There are concerns that at least 50 million of India’s mobile connections could be ghost connections or inflated numbers. This new revelation from India’s telecom regulator puts India back to 482 million active mobile connections. The margin of error is very high on this one. 

At the end of September, Indian mobile operators reported 687.7 million mobile subscriptions. Of course there is a margin of error in this number too. TRAI uses Visitor Location Register to calculate the subscribers who make calls and send SMSs regularly. That would make me an inactive mobile user as I hardly make calls or send text messages.

What it means to us is, we can never get the actual mobile connections figures in India.  At best, we can provide a range for the telecom subscribers. India has anywhere between 482 million to 700 million mobile connections. That is a 200 million margin of error. The average revenues the telcos are reporting tele-density which is close to 60 percent. There could be multitude of reasons for this gap. The most important one of them is cheap prepaid connections.

Pre-paid connections in India are cheaper than a Chetan Bhagat book. That made the people reckless and the telcos imprudent. There is absolutely no harm in getting a connection and giving one. So why bother with the paperwork? Another reason is inflation. Not the “I cannot afford onions” kind, but the Ramalinga Raju kind. There are speculations that telcos are inflating subscriber numbers to gain more spectrum. Some telcos who didn’t like the concept of inflating numbers got cozy with Raja and Radia. Some telcos did both. At the end of the day, TRAI is sitting on a pile of 200 million extra SIM’s – either physical or virtual. I am sure this is one mess we don’t have to clear up. Or may be we have to.

After 700 million customers, Indian telcos are resorting to a know-your-customer exercise. This is something a company would do before issuing a new connection. Though they got the order wrong Indian telcos are doing it. Telcos are asking subscribers to submit address proof, identity proof and all the good stuff. Non compliant subscribers are facing a strange proposition. The incoming number will not be displayed which sets them back to pre-1990 era of wealthy neighbor’s landline phone. Nice. Once done what we might have a revision of the subscriber base and I really hope it hovers around half a billion mark.

On a different note, the government is fretting over the loss of 170,000 crore rupees ($38bn) and here we are worrying about the telecom subscriber base. Who really cares? Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s dial Raja. 

“Yo Raja, how much would a spectrum cost now? I got few Russian investors lined up”.

Raja : “You have to speak to Radia first”.