Indian telecom stocks lose ground as growth stalls

FILE PHOTO: A rickshaw puller speaks on his mobile phone as he waits for customers in front of advertisement billboards belonging to telecom companies in Kolkata. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

(Reuters) – Indian telecom stocks such as Vodafone Idea Ltd lost ground on Thursday after the industry regulator released monthly data that showed a bleak rise in the country’s mobile phone customer base.

The country’s mobile phone customer base rose 0.06 percent, or a net 0.72 million, to 1.17 billion in October, data released by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) showed on Wednesday.

Vodafone Idea, the country’s largest telecom operator by subscribers, lost 7.4 million users, while Bharti Airtel Ltd, the No. 2 telecom firm, lost 1.9 million subscribers during the month.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd added 10.5 million subscribers to its network, making it the third biggest in the country.

Jio’s entry in the market had led to widespread disruption in the domestic telecom industry, sparking a price war, stiffening competition and triggering consolidation among the bigger players.

“The top three operators have benefited from the ongoing consolidation within smaller operators in the past,” brokerage Morgan Stanley wrote in a note.

“Most smaller operators are now left with no subscribers, so it will be interesting to see market share shifts within the top players, particularly when Jio continues with an aggressive subscriber acquisition strategy compared to Airtel and Vodafone Idea, which are looking to optimize their low-end customer base,” Morgan Stanley said.

Vodafone Idea shares hit their lowest in three weeks, dropping as much as 5.2 percent, while shares in Bharti Airtel fell 1.5 percent. 

Shares in Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, which has a total of 3.5 million users, fell up to 6.7 percent.

(Reporting by Krishna V Kurup; Editing by Sunil Nair)

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