The Indian regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has unveiled new figures suggesting that India’s penetration rate could be significantly lower than previously believed - according to the new data, around 200 million SIM cards in India are not active.
Although subscriber numbers in India pass the 800 million milestone in March this year with a total of 811.59 million, the new figures also show that ‘active’ subscribers totalled just 573.97 million – a discrepancy of 237.62 million.
The process used to establish the active subscriber numbers is known as the visitor location register (VLR), which tracks subscribers’ movements between roaming areas to provide a temporary record of their whereabouts. A single subscriber can therefore obviously not be present in two VLRs simultaneously.
An analysis of TRAI’s figures by the CyberMedia group journal Voice and Data has found that India’s mobile penetration rate – frequently estimated at around 66% - could be as low as 41% if inactive SIMs and owners of multiple SIMs are factored in.
Voice and Data noted that "the 563 million VLR in February means that the remaining 228 million subscribers are inactive users (mostly prepaid ones) who have not recharged their SIMs for a long time and are in the 'grace period' before disconnection. The second major caveat is that these are subscriptions, not subscribers. If a person has two SIM cards, he will show up as two subscribers in the TRAI data."
It is fairly common for Indian subscribers to own several SIM cards, with “conservative industry estimates” placing the figure at 15 – 30% of the country’s registered SIM cards.