India’s top 2 mobile carriers fight for supremacy in fixed broadband

The spotlight is on India’s fixed broadband market, with the top two mobile service providers, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, focusing on it as the demand for quality internet continues to grow unabated in the country.

A recent report by GlobalData says that India’s fixed communication services revenue is likely to grow from $10.2 billion in 2022 to $13.9 billion in 2027. This growth will be driven by the fixed broadband market.

India is experiencing a massive demand for high-speed and quality internet in residential and office areas. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the rules of the game. Work-from-home and learn-from-home meant that the demand for quality fixed broadband shot up almost overnight. Recognizing the growing importance of connectivity, the government increased the minimum broadband speed from 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps in 2022. In addition, the government came up with right-of-way guidelines and policy to empower telcos to accelerate the deployment of fiber across the country. 

Jio had 9.4 million wired broadband subscribers at the end of July 2023, up from 6.56 million in August 2022. On the other hand, Airtel had 6.7 million in July 2023, up from 5.13 million in August 2022, as per data revealed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). 

High consumption and, more importantly, higher Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) coupled with low churn in the fixed broadband market make it a very lucrative segment for the wireless service providers.

The home broadband market is also crucial for the telcos as they have made massive investments in 5G, and 5G-enabled fixed wireless access (FWA) is one of the most crucial use cases to help telcos monetize their 5G investments. Airtel and Jio launched their FWA services, Airtel XStream and JioAirFiber, earlier this year.

Service providers are realizing the growing relevance of fixed broadband. This is evident from the recent agreement between Jio and Plume. Jio will be using Plume’s HomePass and WorkPass services to provide an improved broadband experience to 200 million premises, as per the recent press release. It is crucial for the telcos to ensure a best-in-class experience because fixed broadband is emerging as the new battleground, with Jio and Airtel fighting for supremacy.

“As we continue to expand our portfolio of connected home services, it is critical for Jio to provide our customers the most advanced and secure in-home digital services, delivering the best end-to-end customer experience,” stated Mathew Oommen, president of Reliance Jio.

“The partnership with Jio marks a significant global expansion of Plume’s services with a major telecoms force in Asia. Our ability to offer a tailored and highly scalable cloud-based solution to meet the needs of the Indian market will enable Jio to rapidly expand its services offering,” said Adrian Fitzgerald, chief revenue officer of Plume.

Mobile-first country

Typically, telcos have focused on mobile connectivity in the country. India is a mobile-first country where accessing the internet is concerned. The country had 759 million active internet users as of 2022 with the number likely to touch 900 million by 2025, according to a report by Kantar and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

A significant part of the population accessed the internet for the first time on a 4G network on a smartphone and not on a desktop or laptop. A key reason for this is that Jio disrupted the market by launching 4G services for free for the first six months of its operations. This pushed the other telcos also to bring down the data tariff. In addition, Jio launched value-for-money smartphones to make it easier for consumers to access data services.

Apart from this, telcos primarily focused on the wireless segment, leading to a low-uptake of fixed broadband. This was also because deploying fiber was a painstaking initiative in India as the country lacked clear right-of-way policies. It involved acquiring approval from multiple municipal and district-level authorities and high fees, which invariably delayed fiber deployment. All this meant that the country now severely lags behind in fiber, which is required for high-speed in-building connectivity.