For all the noise around its internet-savvy population, India’s broadband subscriber base grew at its slowest pace in five years in 2018.
Users of fixed and wireless broadband internet grew 44.7% year-on-year, as per data from the sector regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), research firm techARC said in a press release on Dec. 27.
“This is the lowest in the past five years (2014 onwards) since a lot of industry and government focus started towards increasing the broadband penetration in the country,” the Gurugram-based company noted.
Internet usage in India has skyrocketed in recent years, especially after the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, disrupted the telecom market with the launch of Reliance Jio, which offered data at dirt-cheap rates. Within three months of its launch, the upstart drew over 50 million users. Analysts predict Jio will garner over 400 million users by March 2020.
But broadband adoption hasn’t kept pace. Growth in India’s broadband subscriber base was much higher in 2016—the year that Jio launched its services—than it is now.
Despite the slowing growth, India’s broadband subscriber base did breach the 500 million milestone in 2018. Overall “broadband subscribers have grown at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 43.7% in the past five years taking the total number of subscribers to 525 million,” the report said.
In all of this, the days of fixed broadband are numbered. By the end of 2018, its subscribers are estimated to decline to a mere 17.6 million.
“This decline is evident as it is getting difficult to add the new broadband subscribers at the entry segments of users,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder of techARC. “It would be a herculean task to get next 500 million on board, taking the Indian broadband subscribers to cross (the) one billion mark.”
Not making moves
Reliance Jio’s Gigafiber offering, a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband service, is perhaps one of the only concerted efforts by a private player to enable “broadbandisation” at the entry level of the market.
“The industry, including the supply chain, has to think of more such innovative solutions to enable more people at the entry segments joining the digital ride,” techARC said in its report.
It doesn’t help that government initiatives are falling short. For instance, the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund for rural telephony has run into a wall in the northeastern state of Assam and Andhra Pradesh in the south. There, state-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s (BSNL) implementation partner Vihaan Networks Limited has allegedly been using substandard technology to set up nearly 1,900 mobile towers in the region.
Moreover, the Narendra Modi government’s flagship project BharatNet has not made good on its promise of providing digital connectivity of all gram panchayats (village councils) in the country by 2019 either. Just under 10% of the project has reached fruition so far. And where the infrastructure is available, there is gross under-utilisation or non-utilisation.