The number of telephone connections in India crossed one billion at the end of April. India is behind China, which had 1.28 billion mobile subscribers and 246.94 million fixed-line subscribers at the end of February.
Chinese telephone subscribers account for 94.5 per cent of the country's population, but in India the coverage is 77-80 per cent because of multiple connections and inactive users.
According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the telephone subscriber base was 996.49 million at the end of March, with 969.89 million wireless subscribers. In April, there was an addition of five million GSM users, according to sources. Along with other services like CDMA and broadband, the telephone subscriber base has crossed one billion.
Fixed-line subscribers with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam have been declining every month to reach 26.59 million in March.
The wireless subscriber base first doubled in 2005 to 75.1 million from 47.6 million in 2004, when incoming calls were made free. In 2007, the wireless subscriber base reached 228.9 million from 146.7 million a year ago as the government increased foreign direct investment in the telecom sector to 74 per cent from 49 per cent.
"Though we crossed the one-billion-connection mark in April, we have to also look at the numbers in a different way as many subscribers hold multiple SIMs," said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI). He added many Indians remained unconnected in remote villages and in the Naxal-affected parts of the country, where mobile services were yet to reach.
The companies that came under fire included Uninor, a venture between Unitech and Norway's Telenor, Sistema Shyam, a venture between Shyam and Sistema of Russia, Etisalat DB, a venture between Swan and Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates, Loop Telecom, S Tel and Videocon.
Some of these companies shut shop, while Uninor bought spectrum in seven circles after ending the partnership with Unitech. The Supreme Court decision was based on a Comptroller and Auditor General report that said the government had lost Rs 1,76,000 crore notionally by issuing spectrum at throwaway prices.
Future growth in Indian telecommunications is expected to come from data services and not from voice traffic.