As price war subsides in India, mobile network experience becomes critical to understand churn

Opensignal’s data shows that our Indian smartphone users on the three leading telecom networks, who changed their mobile service provider, had a worse experience before they switched compared to the typical mobile experience on their original network. Additionally, our data shows that Vi lost subscribers to churn compared to its rivals  — Airtel and Jio — who gained new subscribers. By the end of 2020, Airtel had gained the highest proportion of users in 2020.

Currently, India is the world’s second-largest telecommunications market, with a subscriber base of 1.16 billion. The market has registered strong growth in the last decade, but it also has high churn rates birthed by carriers adopting an aggressive pricing strategy, especially after Jio’s disruptive entry in 2016 that ate away the profits and forced many operators out of the market, often as a result of acquisitions. That said, by the end of 2019, the three leading carriers — Airtel, Vodafone and Jio — decided to raise their tariff, signaling a truce to their price wars that changed the dynamics of the market significantly.

In this analysis, Opensignal analyzed the mobile experience of our Indian smartphone users who changed their mobile network service provider (Leavers) in 2020 after all three leading operators raised the tariffs. We calculated the proportion of Leavers that each mobile operator lost and gained out of the total number of Leavers. Then, for each mobile operator, we calculated the difference between those two calculated proportions to find the net flow of Leavers. Note that there are still significant numbers of feature phone users in India, so Opensignal’s analysis represents a proportion of each mobile operator’s base, not all users.

Opensignal’s data shows that until August 2020, Airtel and Jio had been steadily gaining smartphone users, and in this period, both operators were neck and neck in the net users gained. From September onwards, when carriers once again decided to hike prices, Airtel continued to gain users until the end of the year. However, that trend on Jio’s network more or less flattened and then gradually started to decline — the negative trend was more pronounced from mid-November onwards.

In contrast, Vi had been steadily losing customers since the beginning of the year and only started to see a deceleration of this trend from mid-November onwards.

Opensignal also analyzed the mobile experience of smartphone Leavers for the month of December 2020. We looked at our users’ mobile experience during the 30 days before they changed their mobile operator and compared that against the average experience on their original mobile network.

We found that smartphone Leavers, on average, had a worse mobile experience before they switched than the typical experience observed by our smartphone users on their original network provider. Leavers across Airtel, Jio and Vi on average spent between 74% and 155% more time without a mobile signal compared to the average scores on their networks; they also spent less time connected to either a 3G or 4G mobile connection — 3G/4G Availability — and they experienced lower 4G Availability. Therefore, Opensignal’s data indicates that users experiencing mobile network pain points are more likely to change their mobile service provider.

Operators should address users with weaker mobile network experience to reduce churn
Jio’s disruptive entrance into the Indian mobile market with its free data and unlimited voice calls plans initiated an undercutting strategy among the key market players. But Opensignal’s analysis of India’s mobile experience shows that having a worse mobile network experience remains a key indicator of smartphone users switching their mobile network operator. This indicates that mobile network experience is critical to understand mobile subscriber churn in India. Operators that wish to reduce churn levels in India must segment their smartphone users’ based on the quality of users’ mobile network experience.