Notwithstanding the looming threat from Reliance Jio, private equity-funded ACT Fibernet has emerged as the fastest growing wired broadband player in India in recent months.
For the first three months of 2020, the company added nine times as many fiber broadband subscribers as Reliance Jio and nearly twice as many as Bharti Airtel.
Reliance Jio, which had 8.6 lakh fiber broadband customers as of the end of December, managed to increase its subscriber base to 8.7 lakh by the end of March.
At the same time, Bharti Airtel saw its wired broadband subscriber base increase to 24.7 lakh from 24.2 lakh, while Hathway managed to go from 9 lakh to 9.7 lakh, adding 70,000 net subscribers.
However, it was the Bangalore-based start-up that put up the most impressive subscriber gains to go from 15.2 lakh to 16.1 lakh over the same period.
In doing so, it increased its lead over Reliance Jio from 6.6 lakh to 7.4 lakh.
Despite the impressive gains, ACT — formed during the peak of the dotcom bubble 20 years ago — continues to be at No.3 spot in terms of total number of wired broadband customers in India.
At 81 lakh subscribers, BSNL, the leader in wired broadband in India, still has five times as many users as ACT Fibernet.
Airtel, the No.2, too has 50% more wired subscribers than ACT.
Founded by Sunder Raju in 2000, ACT — short for Atria Convergence Technologies — is the only company that was conceived of as a broadband provider in the list of India’s top five wired ISPs.
The others, such as Airtel, Jio and Hathway, started out as cable or telecom companies and added broadband to their mix later.
ACT, which has its service in 15 cities in South India and 3 cities in the North, is backed by private equity fund True North, formerly known as India Value Fund Advisors or IVFA. IVFA has, in the past, invested in start-ups like Billdesk, Dr Lal’s Pathlabs, Fractal Analytics, Micromax, Rategain and Tega Ind.
The company’s success has largely been built on the fact that it started out as a high-speed broadband company, and treated the service as its core offering, unlike most of its competitors.
The company was among the first to offer fiber to the home when the big telecom and cable companies considered such an idea unworkable in the Indian situation.
It continues to offer among the lowest subscription plans in its market, especially in its newer markets.
For example, it offers 1,500 GB of high-speed data at Rs 799 (before taxes) in a hyper competitive market like Delhi. In Chennai, 1,000 GB costs Rs 1,075 per month, while in its home market of Bangalore, the same amount of data costs Rs 1,999.
The company, meanwhile, is expected to face tougher competition in the coming months as Reliance Jio starts ploughing the billions of dollars it has raised in recent days into its nascent fiber broadband service.
Unlike ACT, Jio has a pan-India presence and will start its fiber broadband operations in around 1,500 cities within the next 12-18 months.
Bharti Airtel too is looking to get aggressive on the wired broadband market as it seeks to stay competitive with its bigger competitor.