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Vodafone Idea looks to ringfence users with Rs 20 recharge

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One of the persons mentioned above said that Vodafone Idea’s strategy is to make its current crop of inactive customers active by getting them on board with the Rs 20 recharge plan.

Vodafone Idea (VIL) has lowered its minimum recharge plan threshold to Rs 20, from Rs 35, in the first major change in strategy by new CEO Ravinder Takkar to stem the exodus of subscribers, which has dragged the telco’s topline despite a rise in average revenue per user (ARPU).

According to people aware of the development, the latest initiative by Vodafone Idea — which fell to third place by revenue market share (RMS) behind rivals Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel — is being offered to select subscribers through messages. ET checked with the telco’s multiple retail outlets who confirmed the latest price plan with a validity of 28 days. The operator, however, did not respond to ET’s queries till press-time Friday.

Vodafone Idea

One of the persons mentioned above said that Vodafone Idea’s strategy is to make its current crop of inactive customers active by getting them on board with the Rs 20 recharge plan.

“This way, instead of them exiting the telco, they will start billing for the telco. The ARPUs will increase, so will the customer base, revenue and the operator can also get subscribers to upgrade to higher tariffs plans later,” said the person. “This plan won’t be mass-marketed so that those on Rs 35 do not come down to Rs 20 recharge, hence selective customers have been informed of the plan.”

Rajiv Sharma, co-research head at SBICaps Securities, said that Vodafone Idea needed to act fast to arrest further subscriber exits, who can then be upgraded at a later stage. But the immediate impact could be a fall in ARPU by 3 to 4%. He further said that Airtel is unlikely to follow suit unless Vodafone Idea manages to show a “meaningful” subscriber addition over the next couple of months.

The minimum recharge plans were introduced in the third quarter of FY19 by both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel to eliminate low-end inactive subscribers which boosted their respective ARPUs, a key performance parameter. But Vodafone Idea’s user loss has been far sharper than Airtel’s since the launch of the minimum recharge plans — over 67 million against more than 48 million, respectively. But Vodafone Idea’s ARPU gain has been less-than-expected, leading to a fall in revenue in the June-ended quarter, when Airtel increased both ARPUs and India mobile revenue.

“The revenue miss was due to lower-than-expected ARPUs, which grew a mere 4% on quarter to Rs108 despite a 9% on a quarterly decline in the average subscriber base,” CLSA said in a note after Vodafone Idea’s April-June results when revenue fell over 4% on quarter, below expectations.

The brokerage house said that in the three months to June, the company even lost 3 million data subscribers on quarter and saw a “limited” edition of 0.3 million users on 3G/4G. “Data traffic growth was moderate at 9% QoQ. A pick-up in 3G/4G additions will be key to future revenue growth,” CLSA said. For this, the critical element for Vodafone Idea is to grow its subscriber base.

At the end of June, Airtel recorded an ARPU of Rs 129 level, higher than Jio’s Rs122 with Vodafone Idea trailing with Rs 108. Since the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular concluded on August 31, the telco has lost nearly 90 million users to end June with 320 million users.

Its aggressive move to stop customers from exiting comes within a month of Reliance Jio chairman Mukesh Ambani, giving his telco a subscriber target of 500 million, from 331.3 million in the June-end quarter.

Riding on its subscriber gains, Jio has become the country’s No 1 telco by RMS in the April-June quarter, less than three years since it launched mobile services, while Airtel regained its No 2 slot, helped by strong revenue growth in important metro markets, outpacing Vodafone Idea, which lost ground sharply in most markets.

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Lingraj is one of the youngest members of PhoneTalk, and a recent tech geek convert. When he's not churning out articles, you’ll find him watching sports, exploring new places, and listening to music.
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