In 2015, telecom operators introduced several innovative plans to retain their subscribers and increase their user base. With the incremental revenues coming mostly from the data segment, operators focused largely on increasing data usage of users. Meanwhile, some efforts were made to revive the saturating voice segment, primarily by the state-run operators.
tele.net takes stock of the key plans introduced by telecom operators in 2015 across the data and voice segments…
In order to tap the potential of the growing market for data services, telecom operators in the past year reached out to existing as well as prospective subscribers with attractive data plans. These included a mix of data sharing and data cashback offers, and the provision of bundled schemes on the purchase of select handsets. Further, to encourage initial adoption, operators introduced attractive price points for their 4G long term evolution services.
- 4G at 3G tariffs: While Bharti Airtel expanded its 4G reach in the country in 2015, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India also forayed into the 4G space by the end of the year. A common feature of the 4G tariff plans offered by all three operators was that these were priced at par with the existing 3G tariff plans in a bid to increase 4G uptake. Moreover, by offering 4G at 3G rates, operators attempted to secure themselves from the competition that is expected to result from the commercial launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL). RJIL is widely anticipated to price its 4G offerings aggressively. The move to price 4G plans at par with 3G plans could also be an indication of the operators’ strategy to establish a flat pricing regime across 2G, 3G and 4G services. However, even at a price point similar to 3G, the ARPU will still be more in the case of 4G due to higher speeds and the consequent increase in data consumption.
- Sharing plans: In the past year, many telecom operators introduced data sharing plans in order to create a pool of internet data that could be shared among individuals. For instance, Bharti Airtel launched the MyAirtel family plan for its prepaid customers. Under this, the operator’s prepaid users can share their 3G or 4G data with four other Airtel subscribers. This service is free of cost and all members have unrestricted access to the owner’s data pack. Airtel had earlier launched a similar plan, called “myPlan for family”, for its post-paid customers in 2014. Similarly, Vodafone India launched the RED Family@99 pack, which allows customers to share data plans with family members or add devices at an additional cost of Rs 99 per month. A Vodafone RED customer can add up to five members or devices to the RED Family. Meanwhile, Idea Cellular in February 2015 extended the benefits of its existing EasyShare Plan to its prepaid users. This plan allows subscribers to transfer data benefits from their packs to other subscribers within their circle by paying a small convenience fee.
The data sharing plans create a win-win situation for both operators as well as customers. Since the plans can be shared only amongst subscribers of the same operator, family members and friends are incentivised to choose the same service provider, thereby increasing the operator’s subscriber base. Those who subscribe to these plans can benefit by getting mobile data from their friends and family members when they run out of their own data.
In a bid to boost data usage at night when networks are less congested, Bharti Airtel and Videocon Telecom launched attractive data offers. Airtel launched a data cashback offer, under which customers get a daily morning credit of 50 per cent of the data they consume between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. The data received as cashback has the same validity as the user’s active data pack. Meanwhile, Videocon Telecom launched a double data offer under which its customers get double the amount of data that is currently available on all standard data packs. This is applicable during night hours (12 a.m. to 7 a.m.). These packs were launched keeping in mind that the majority of data users comprise younger people who use mobile data regardless of the time of day.
Telecom operators expanded their bundled offerings in 2015. However, unlike previous years when these offers mostly included discounted voice benefits, the operators in the past year offered a variety of data offers on the purchase of select mobile handsets. For instance, Bharti Airtel offered double the 4G data allocated under any existing plan selected by the consumer, for six months, on the purchase of phones such as Samsung Grand Prime 4G, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, Yu Yureka and Yu Yuphoria. Airtel also launched a new iPhone Infinity plan for its post-paid customers, which gave 60 GB of free 4G data over 12 months on the purchase of Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus handsets. Meanwhile, Vodafone India offered its existing and new customers the chance to avail of the Vodafone “RED 1,299 worry-free plan” free of cost for six months from the time of purchase of an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus. The plan includes free 3 GB mobile data, 4,000 local and STD minutes, as well as 1,500 local and national SMSs. Telenor India partnered with tablet-maker DataWind to offer unlimited internet browsing for one year on the latter’s devices. The offer is available on all DataWind devices across the six telecom circles where Telenor offers commercial mobile services on its 2G network.
Operators reached out to existing as well as prospective subscribers with attractive data plans such as data sharing and data cashback, and bundled schemes on the purchase of select handsets. They also offered attractive price points for their 4G LTE services.
Telecom operators continued offering discounted voice packs pertaining to validity, free talktime, etc. However, the key highlights in the voice segment in 2015 were the introduction of free roaming and night calling facility by select operators.
Free roaming facilities
In line with the government’s objective of “one nation, one licence” envisaged under the National Telecom Policy, 2012, state-run telecom operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) launched free pan-Indian incoming roaming services for their subscribers in June 2015 and December 2015 respectively. Meanwhile, some telecom operators launched region-specific roaming facilities for their subscribers. For instance, Aircel launched the “Five States, One Rate” offer for its prepaid and post-paid customers across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Under this plan, Aircel customers in south India travelling between these states pay no incoming call charges while outgoing calls are charged at a minimal rate of Re 0.01 per second for both local and STD calls. Similarly, Vodafone India introduced a “One Rate, One South” pack for its prepaid customers in these states. Under this scheme, a tariff of 1 paisa per second is charged for outgoing calls while incoming calls are free within these states.
Free night calling
In order to revive their fixed line revenues, BSNL and MTNL introduced free night calling for their subscribers in May 2015. MTNL customers can make unlimited free calls from their landline phones to other operator networks in the Delhi and Mumbai circles between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Further, STD call charges are the same as landline local call charges during these hours. Meanwhile, BSNL’s subscribers can make free calls to any other operator’s network across the country between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The free night calling scheme has already started bearing fruit for BSNL, which is evident from the growth in traffic on the wireline network and the slowdown in the landline disconnection rate.
With a huge outgo expected in the next round of spectrum auctions that are likely to take place in early 2016, it is unlikely that operators will slash their headline tariffs. Moreover, the entry of RJIL is likely to make demand in the Indian telecom market more price elastic. In such a scenario, operators are expected to resort to more discounted offers, freebies and promotional packs in order to widen their subscriber base. However, given the dynamic nature of the telecom market, there could be surprises in store in 2016.
Puneet Kumar Arora