Over 450 million users stuck in a limbo as Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL fight to survive

A hotel employee clears a table after Vodafone Group and Idea Cellular news conference in Mumbai, India March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
  • Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL together account for almost 40% of mobile subscribers.
  • Since the arrival of Jio, Vodafone Idea has lost over 100 million subscribers, with over 36 million of those leaving the network in November 2019.
  • If Vodafone Idea goes down, the Indian telecom sector will effectively become a duopoly with Jio and Airtel controlling a significant majority of the market.
The Indian telecom sector has been bleeding for a while now. While mobile subscribers have been the ones who have benefited so far thanks to rock-bottom data prices and free calls, things are starting to look dire for over 450 million users of Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL.

On one hand, Vodafone Idea is fighting for its survival after the Supreme Court directed it to pay its AGR dues worth ₹53,000 crore. Added to that, the merged entity has not been spending on its network, leaving its customers frustrated. Those who continue to use the services are also wondering if the crisis might affect their connections.

On the other hand, state-run BSNL and MTNL are facing an acute crunch of staff after more than 90,000 employees opted for the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) offered by the Modi government.

Over 450 million users stuck in a limbo

According to the latest numbers released by TRAI, Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL have more than 450 million wireless subscribers, accounting for almost 40% of India’s total wireless subscribers.

The common theme in complaints of subscribers of these companies is that either the network is down or that it is unreliable. While Vodafone Idea users often complain about network issues, many of them are porting out of the network in frustration.


BSNL and MTNL users have been reporting that their connections are either dead or the speeds are too low. Some of these users are even stating that their issues are a direct result of the employee responsible taking VRS.


Vodafone Idea is hemorrhaging subscribers

Since the arrival of Jio, Vodafone Idea has lost almost 100 million users. Over 36 million of these users were lost in November 2019.

But more recently, the company has stopped competing with Jio and Airtel when it comes to new features. While Jio and Airtel have been offering services like eSIM and VoWiFi for a while now, Vodafone Idea hasn’t even talked about it.

While eSIM or VoWiFi are not essential features, their absence on Vodafone’s network suggests that it has more important issues to deal with right now. Latest numbers released by TRAI reveal that Vodafone is hemorrhaging, losing over 36 million subscribers in November 2019.

VRS is adversely affecting BSNL and MTNL customers

The mass exodus of employees at BSNL and MTNL has severely affected users of landline as well as wireless subscribers.

The acute staff crunch has meant that customer complaints of landlines going dead or the wireless internet speeds being very low are not being addressed appropriately.

There could be only two choices left in the market, and that’s not a good thing

With the future of Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL hanging in the balance, there are only two choices left in the market – Jio and Airtel.

If Vodafone Idea goes out of business, Jio and Airtel will end up controlling a significant majority of the market, allowing them to raise prices without any repercussions.

While Jio has offered affordable plans so far, a duopoly effectively gives it the freedom to raise prices in the future. Airtel’s services, on the other hand, are already costlier than Jio’s.

Most recently, Jio announced a price hike of up to 40% after its rivals Airtel and Vodafone Idea increased prices. Since then, the company has also reduced the validity of its annual plans by up to 8%, which forces users to recharge for an extra month now.

See also:

Mukesh Ambani’s Jio disagrees with Airtel, Vodafone on everything except tariffs and transparency

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio becomes the largest telco by revenue and subscribers - as industry shows signs of recovery

Panicking Vodafone-Idea users are porting to Airtel and Reliance Jio — but that might not be the solution they're looking for
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