The past year has been a significant one for the Indian telecom industry. Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited’s (RJIL) foray into the market with low-cost data packs and unlimited voice calling unleashed a price war. As a result, tariffs have reduced considerably, with voice now essentially becoming free for consumers.
Data has emerged as the new playing field and operators are rolling out a slew of attractive plans at affordable rates, offering extra data benefits, coupled with a data rollover advantage and subscription to premium entertainment applications.
According to a report by Kleiner Perkins, mobile data usage in India has risen from 200 million GB per month in June 2016 to 1.3 billion GB per month in March 2017. As per the report, 80 per cent of internet usage now takes place on mobile devices. This strong growth in mobile internet usage can be attributed to the lower data tariffs and increased availability of affordable smartphones.
The most popular proposition among operators’ new data offerings are plans that offer 1 GB of data daily to users, with the benefit of unlimited calling. The trend was started by RJIL, which offered unlimited free data usage till March 2017, subject to a cap of 1 GB per day in line with the fair usage policy (FUP). Almost all the leading telecom companies followed suit, offering similar value at competitive rates. For instance, Bharti Airtel, in March 2017, launched the Rs 345 plan for prepaid users, offering 28 GB of data for 28 days. While the daily FUP limit was set at 1 GB, customers were able to use only 500 MB of data during the day, while the remaining 500 MB was allotted for use from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. For customers who did not want any time restriction on their data use, it offered a new Rs 549 plan that provided 1 GB of high speed data per day for 28 days without any time constraint.
Another emerging trend in this space is the launch of data rollover plans, under which the unused 3G/4G data of a subscriber at the end of a particular billing cycle is rolled over and added to the data quota in the next billing cycle. In August 2017, Bharti Airtel became the first operator to offer the data rollover facility on its 3G/4G post-paid tariff plans, subject to a maximum of 200 GB per subscriber. The offer is applicable only on the base plan data quota, and any data left unused from smartbytes, pre-on-post data packs, daily data packs, etc. is not covered. Further, the accumulated data is valid only till the subscriber continues with the existing plan. Airtel has now extended the offer to its broadband customers as well, allowing them to carry forward their unused monthly data to the next billing cycle, subject to a maximum of 1,000 GB. Vodafone India has also introduced a data rollover facility for its post-paid subscribers. The offer is, however, applicable on only a newly unveiled set of Vodafone RED post-paid plans. The data rollover is limited to 200 GB.
Further, operators with a presence in the digital payments space have started giving attractive cashbacks to their customers. For instance, Bharti Airtel is offering a refund of Rs 50 after the first-time recharge, for seven consecutive months on its prepaid plan priced at Rs 349. To avail of the offer, customers need to use the My Airtel app and make payments through Airtel Payments Bank. The money would then be credited back to the user’s Airtel Payments Bank account. Similarly, RJIL has unveiled cashback offers on every recharge of Rs 399, which includes eight vouchers of Rs 50 each that will be credited to the MyJio digital wallet of all Jio Prime members. These vouchers can be used to get discounts of Rs 50 each on any subsequent recharge, or data top-up, thus bringing down the effective tariff. In addition, subscribers will get vouchers worth Rs 300 credited into Jio’s partner mobile wallets such as AmazonPay, AxisPay, FreeCharge, MobiKwik, Paytm and PhonePe.
Operators are also enhancing their data offerings by allowing free access to a host of content-based applications. For instance, Bharti Airtel is offering free subscription of its online music application Wynk and Airtel TV, while Jio is offering unlimited access to its entire application suite, including JioTV, JioMovies, JioMusic and JioXpressNews. Vodafone India and Idea Cellular are also offering free subscriptions of their content applications Vodafone PLAY and Digital Idea.
Amidst the changing sector dynamics, the tariff wars amongst telecom operators in India are unlikely to end any time soon. Going forward, the market is likely to see the introduction of additional data offers at even lower tariffs.