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Consolidation in Indian mobile biz, sees bonanza for consumers

Mobile customers are already benefiting from attractive voice and data plans
March 13 2017: Reliance Jio the newest player in the Indian mobile arena, has acquired  100 million customers in 100 days, given many of them up to 6 months of free data and voice at the latest 4G speeds -- and disrupted the  cellular  business in India.
Now the free run is over. From April 1,  Jio customers will have to pay. The company has offered its customers membership to Jio Prime at a one-time fee of Rs 99. Subsequently they can opt for a variety of data plans starting at Rs  149 for 28 days with free voice and 2GB of data, which jumps to 28 GB for Rs 303 and 56 GB for Rs  499  which is effectively an industry-low  Rs 9/GB. The speed offered is uniformly 4G with the added benefit of VoLTE or Voice over LTE which means voice travels at 4G data speeds.
This has had a domino effect and almost every major mobile provider has launched attractive schemes for its customers:
All new 4G customers of Reliance Communications will get 1GB of data access offered at Rs 49, while 3GB of data access can be availed for Rs 149, along with free and unlimited on-net local and STD calls, valid for 28 days. Regardless of the type of Smartphone or feature phone being used, customers will get data and voice services without any additional recharge or membership—across 4G, 3G and 2G.
Starting April 1, 2017, Airtel customers roaming within India will enjoy free incoming calls/SMS and there will be no premium on outgoing calls allowing them to speak freely wherever they are within the country. Also, there will be no additional data charges on national roaming. Home data packs for customers will apply even while they roam across India.  Airtel is close to Jio in low and mid price bands but is almost twice as costly in the high end. It does not have Jio's current spread of 4G  but has higher over al speeds. It has been rated as India’s fastest mobile network by Ookla - the global leader in broadband testing which runs speedtest.org.  The latest speed tests published by the TRAI also rated Airtel as the fastest 4G network in India.
Vodafone has launched  Red plans with a typical Rs 499 per month for 3 GB Internet usage at 4G and unlimiyed local and STD calling.

Consolidation
Coincidentally with the Jio effect and due in part to it, a wave of consolidation is taking place across the Indian mobile business:
Airtel  is to acquire Telenor (India) Communications  As part of the agreement, Airtel will acquire Telenor India’s running operations in seven circles - Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam. It will also enable Airtel to further bolster its strong spectrum foot-print in these seven circles, with the addition of 43.4 MHz spectrum in the 1800 MHz band. 
Reliance Communications is expected to merge with Aircel once the latter  gets over some legal issues.  RCom is also expected  to consolidate with the Russian provider MTS. There are also strong suggestion that Tata Teleservices may also join this consortium.   Vodafone and Idea are in advanced stages of merging.
So we may finally be left with just  4 or possibly 5  big providers:
-         Reliance Comm-Aircel-MTS (and maybe Tata? Not certain as of now )
-         Vodafone-Aircel
-         Airtel-Telenor
-         Reliance Jio

The coming together is also triggered by the huge price these companies have had to pay for spectrum in the last round of auctions. Many bands that would have made for efficient communications  remained with no bidders because of the unreasonable-- some say extortionate  base price -- that a greedy government set, a case of  killing a golden goose. Already there is talk of fresh auctions for the futuristic 5G even as providers are scrambling to provide 4 G services. 
Right now it's a buyer's market and Indian consumers are being offered a mobile and broadband bonanza, like never before.  Will it last -- or will  market forces and compulsions  finally push up the price. Too soon to tell.




    


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