Reliance Jio, which started wired broadband operations in September last year, has started speeding up the roll-out of its Jio Fiber service after an initial slow-down.
The company started the service with around 8 lakh connections as of October end, most of which were converts from its trial service.
Over the next two months, it added around 60,000 subscribers, taking its year-end wired broadband user base to 8.6 lakh.
However, with the new year, Jio Fiber seemed to have hit some roadblock and lost 20,000 users in January this year, bringing its total down to 8.4 lakh.
In February too, the company’s broadband subscriber base remained static at 8.4 lakh with net addition remaining negligible during the month.
This seeming ‘starting trouble’ had generated much disappointment among many would-be Jio Fiber users. Lakhs of users have been waiting for the service to be launched in their locality after registering on the company’s portal over the last two years.
In what may come as welcome news for such users, Jio has again accelerated the roll-out of the fiber broadband service.
According to the latest numbers, it has given 70,000 new connections in May, the highest monthly addition for Jio Fiber after its initial phase. In fact, the number is also the highest monthly addition for any wired broadband player in India in recent times.
What may come as a surprise is that this has been achieved during a month when the country was under a COVID-19 lock-down.
Against the 70,000 new broadband users added in May, the company added 30,000 each in March and April, taking the total to 9.7 lakh by the end of May.
During the lock-down months of April and May, Jio was able to add 1 lakh broadband users to its fiber network while other, city-focused players actually lost broadband customers during this period.
Airtel, for example, lost 30,000 broadband customers in April and another 30,000 in May. The Gurgaon-based company later explained that this was owing to the shut-down of shops and offices and it expected the connections to be reactivated later.
In addition to broadband numbers, Jio also disclosed the total number of wireline customers, including customers who were not availing of broadband services.
Against the 1 lakh broadband users added in April and May, Jio added 1.42 lakh new wireline customers during the same period.
It is not clear what services the extra 42,000 users were doing on the network, given that they were not included in the broadband user base. It is possible that these may largely be voice-oriented commercial subscribers, such as shops and offices.
As a result, by the end of May, Jio had 12.32 lakh wireline subscribers, out of which only 9.7 lakh were broadband customers.
In fact, the number of wireline users of Jio has shown a more consistent pattern of growth compared to the fluctuations seen in the broadband subscriber base.
In May — the latest month for which data is available — Jio added 90,930 wireline users. This was considerably higher than the 50,722 it added in April, which in turn was considerably higher than the 32,086 it added in March. In February, it had added only 3,202 new wireline users.
Out of the 1.42 lakh new wireline users added by the company in April and May, around 19,000 were in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while 17,000 were in Karnataka.
The state of Uttar Pradesh, which contributed around 22,000 new users, was another area of rapid growth for Jio.
Mumbai, which accounts for about a fifth of the company’s current fiber subscriber base, added 14,500 new wireline users during the two months.
While Jio added 1.42 lakh new wired customers in April and May, Bharti Airtel lost 1.45 lakh wireline users during the same period, out of which around 60,000 were also consumers of Airtel broadband.
Among the other wired broadband companies, ACT was the only one that was able to show numbers comparable to that of Jio’s.
ACT, however, did see a loss of around 20,000 broadband customers in April — possibly because its users dispersed from big cities into smaller towns. ACT is primarily focused on big cities and has limited presence in smaller towns.
However, the company was able to bounce back in May with an addition of 50,000 users.
Nevertheless, ACT’s performance has been more consistent than that of Jio’s so far this year.
While Jio struggled to retain users in the early part of the year, ACT has been adding customers at a consistent level.
In fact, in the first five months of 2020, ACT has added the highest number of wired broadband customers in India at 1.2 lakh, compared to 1.1 lakh for Jio Fiber.
However, given the scale of investment by Jio and its considerable footprint, it is highly likely that Jio has since left ACT far behind as far as monthly additions are concerned.
A confirmation of this will only come as numbers for June, July and August are revealed in the coming weeks.
Going by the current indications, it is likely that Jio is adding close to 1 lakh fiber broadband customers per month at present. The company will have to give at least 2 lakh new connections per month if it is to add 5 million households to its network in two years.