But rapid rollout of white-label Wi-Fi infrastructure could curb data usage growth for mobile operators over long run
Mobile data consumption in India has grown 24 times in the past 5 fiscals. CRISIL Research expects that number to multiply four-fold in the next five years through fiscal 2022, given low penetration and an expected doubling of data subscribers to more than 900 million.
As a result, by 2022, mobile data subscriber penetration in India will have soared to 80% from less than 40% now, which means telcos will have to increasingly sweat per-subscriber usage to bolster incremental revenues thereafter.
Between fiscals 2012 and 2017, India’s mobile data usage per subscriber rocketed at ~80% annually to around 1.25 GB per month on increasing adoption of 3G and 4G services, free data offered by Reliance Jio, and a sharp ~40% fall in tariffs in the past fiscal alone.
CRISIL Research expects mobile data usage growth to moderate to ~12% annually and touch 2-2.5 GB per user in the five fiscals through 2022, and stabilise thereafter.
Given the operators’ quest for market leadership, the decline in mobile data prices could continue in the medium-term as well, but at a slower pace. While not immediately but over the long run, data usage growth on mobile could stabilize for the operators, as Wi-Fi gains ground. A comparison of trends across countries indicates higher data usage is strongly linked to higher speeds, whereas India’s current mobile data speeds on 4G are less than half that of say South Korea. The advent of infrastructure linked to Wi-Fi can reduce costs and increase speeds significantly for a user, even as investments continue to gradually improve mobile network quality.
CRISIL, therefore, believes rapid expansion in Wi-Fi infrastructure will cause a shift in data traffic to fixed lines after fiscal 2022, bringing the Great Indian Mobile Data Story under a cloud.