Incumbents gaining in MNP churn

Incumbents mobile operators, who were widely expected to see an initial outflow of long-held subscribers, claimed that they were, on the contrary, winning the first round.

“It looks like people who were the keenest for MNP to be implemented are also the ones who are losing the most,” said a senior Airtel official, an obvious dig at the new operators.

Inded, MNP was pushed through by the ‘class of 2008’ — the six to seven new operators who entered the scene in February 2008 — in the hope that consumers tired of congested networks and dropped calls would switch-over to their unburdened ones.

That, however, is not how it has panned out, according to the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) which has traditionally stood for the incumbent operators such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea.

While all-India data is yet to trickle in, COAI says numbers from Haryana, which saw MNP kicked off in November, shows that the wind is blowing in the direction of the incumbents.

“Around 1.5 lakh, or 1% of the total subscribers of Haryana have opted to change their numbers till middle of this month,” says Rajan Mathews, director general of COAI. “While all networks have seen subscribers leave, Vodafone and Bharti have been net gainers as more people have move to them than have left,” he said, adding that Vodafone has emerged as the biggest gainer, followed by Bharti. Idea, he said, was neither a gainer nor a loser.

Indeed, others too repeated the numbers, adding that the biggest ‘outflow’ has been seen from CDMA subscribers — those belonging to Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices. “It has been seen out of the first set of requests that have come, 70% are CDMA users who wish to change to GSM,” claimed a statement from the Mumbai-based Loop Mobile, one of the new entrants of 2008.

Analysts point to the long suppressed need of many CDMA subscribers to upgrade to sophisticated handsets in the GSM technology. CDMA, despite being cheaper, offered a limited range of handsets, especially at the higher end. GSM operators have also started offering high-speed 3G services in many circles, while CDMA 3G services are yet to take off on phones.

However, not everyone agrees with either the numbers or the interpretation. “Haryana is not a true representative state to glean out initial trends,” says Rajat Mukarji, chief corporate affairs officer at Idea Cellular. “We do not believe the trends are representative.. It’s too small a market and not one on top of every operators’ mind,” he said, adding that he was not certain if the initial reported numbers are correct or not.