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Telecom Industry in India

March, 2017


India is currently the world’s second-largest telecommunications market and has registered strong growth in the past decade and half. The Indian mobile economy is growing rapidly and will contribute substantially to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to report prepared by GSM Association (GSMA) in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The liberal and reformist policies of the Government of India have been instrumental along with strong consumer demand in the rapid growth in the Indian telecom sector. The government has enabled easy market access to telecom equipment and a fair and proactive regulatory framework that has ensured availability of telecom services to consumer at affordable prices. The deregulation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms has made the sector one of the fastest growing and a top five employment opportunity generator in the country.

The Indian telecom sector is expected to generate four million direct and indirect jobs over the next five years according to estimates by Randstad India. The employment opportunities are expected to be created due to combination of government’s efforts to increase penetration in rural areas and the rapid increase in smartphone sales and rising internet usage.

International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts India to overtake US as the second-largest smartphone market globally by 2017 and to maintain high growth rate over the next few years as people switch to smartphones and gradually upgrade to 4G.

Market Size

Driven by strong adoption of data consumption on handheld devices, the total mobile services market revenue in India is expected to touch US$ 37 billion in 2017, registering a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.2 per cent between 2014 and 2017, according to research firm IDC.

India is expected to have over 180 million smartphones by 2019, contributing around 13.5 per cent to the global smartphone market, based on rising affordability and better availability of data services among other factors.&

According to a report by leading research firm Market Research Store, the Indian telecommunication services market will likely grow by 10.3 per cent year-on-year to reach US$ 103.9 billion by 2020.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report India, smartphone subscriptions in India is expected to increase four-fold to 810 million users by 2021, while the total smartphone traffic is expected to grow seventeen-fold to 4.2 Exabytes (EB) per month by 2021.

According to a study by GSMA, smartphones are expected to account for two out of every three mobile connections globally by 2020 making India the fourth largest smartphone market. Total number of Fourth-Generation (4G) enabled smartphone shipments in India stood at 13.9 million units in the quarter ending December 2015, which was more than 50 per cent of total shipments, thereby surpassing number of Third-Generation (3G) enabled smartphone shipments for the first time.^ Broadband services user-base in India is expected to grow to 250 million connections by 2017.


With daily increasing subscriber base, there have been a lot of investments and developments in the sector. The industry has attracted FDI worth US$ 18.38 billion during the period April 2000 to March 2016, according to the data released by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

Some of the major developments in the recent past are:

  • LeEco, a Chinese technology company, has entered into a partnership with Compal Technologies and invested US$ 7 million to set up manufacturing facility at Greater Noida in order to start manufacturing Le2 smartphones in India.
  • Chinese telecom gear maker Huawei has set up its largest global service centre (GSC) at Bengaluru in India, with an initial investment of Rs 136 crore (US$ 20.28 million), which will extend its support to Huawei's domestic and international telecom carrier customers in about 30 markets across Asia, Middle East and Africa.
  • Chinese smartphone maker Gionee, which currently assembles smartphones in partnerships with contract manufacturers Foxconn and Dixon, plans to invest Rs 500 crore (US$ 74.56 million) to set up a manufacturing facility in India.
  • Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel), the major shareholder in Bharti Airtel, announced that it has signed an agreement with its majority owner Temasek Holdings Private Limited to purchase a 7.39 per cent stake in Bharti Telecom Limited, the parent company of Bharti Airtel Limited, in a deal worth US$ 659.51 million.
  • Axiata Digital, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s largest telecom firm Axiata Group Berhad, has made its entry into Indian e-commerce market by investing Rs 100 crores (US$ 14.91 million) in Bengaluru-based StoreKing.
  • Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has partnered with Foxconn to start manufacturing its products in India as part of its plan to have 90 per cent of the devices sold in India to be locally manufactured by the end of 2017.
  • Government of India to make a windfall gain from sale of spectrum in 2016-17 and achieve its fiscal deficit target of 3.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the year.
  • Vodacom SA, a subsidiary of Vodafone Plc, has entered into an agreement with Tata Communications Ltd to buy the fixed-line assets of TataComm's South African telecom subsidiary Neotel Pty Ltd.
  • Reliance Communications Ltd, India’s fourth largest mobile services provider, has agreed to acquire Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd (SSTL), the local unit of Russian company Sistema JSFC, in a deal valued at Rs 4,500 crore (US$ 671.01 million), which includes payments to the government for spectrum allotted to Sistema.
  • American Tower Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange-listed mobile infrastructure firm, has acquired 51 per cent stake in telecom tower company Viom Networks in a deal worth Rs 7,635 crore (US$ 1.13 billion).
  • Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson has announced the introduction of a new radio system in the Indian market, which will provide the necessary infrastructure required by mobile companies in order to provide Fifth-Generation (5G) services in future.

Government Initiatives       

The government has fast-tracked reforms in the telecom sector and continues to be proactive in providing room for growth for telecom companies. Some of the other major initiatives taken by the government are as follows:

  • The Ministry of Communications & Information Technology has launched Twitter Sewa, an online communications platform for registration and resolution of user complaints in the telecommunications and postal sectors.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper which aims to offer consumers free Internet services within the net neutrality framework and has proposed three models for free data delivery to customers without violating the regulations.
  • The Government of India has liberalised the payment terms for spectrum auctions by allowing two options of payments to telecom companies for acquiring the right to use spectrum, which include upfront payment and payment in instalments.
  • The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has amended the Unified Licence for telecom operations which will allow sharing of active telecom infrastructure like antenna, feeder cable and transmission systems between operators, thereby lowering the costs of operations and leading to faster rollout of networks.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model for BharatNet, the central government’s ambitious project to set up a broadband network in rural India, and has also envisaged central and state governments to become the main clients in this project.
  • The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Department of Telecommunication (DoT) to develop and implement National Action Plan for Skill Development in Telecom Sector, with an objective of fulfilling skilled manpower requirement and providing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the sector.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed the telecom companies or mobile operators to compensate the consumers in the event of dropped calls with a view to reduce the increasing number of dropped calls.

Road Ahead

India will emerge as a leading player in the virtual world by having 700 million internet users of the 4.7 billion global users by 2025, as per a Microsoft report. With the government’s favourable regulation policies and 4G services hitting the market, the Indian telecommunication sector is expected to witness fast growth in the next few years.

Exchange Rate Used: INR 1 = US$ 0.0149 as on September 21, 2016

References: Media Reports and Press Releases, Cellular Operators Authority of India (COAI), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Department of Telecommunication (DoT), Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP)

Notes:! - GSMA report 'The Mobile Economy: India 2015', @ - Ericsson Mobility Report November 2015, # - Ericson report ‘India 2020’, -^ - According to a report by International Data Corporation (IDC), &- According to a report by Assocham-KPMG

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