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Telecom companies play cricket, expect fans to consume data at faster pace..

Mumbai: India’s top telcos Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm and Vodafone India are out to attract cricket lovers onto their networks, underlining the critical role of content – ranging from sports to music and movies – in pushing up data revenue in the long run.

Over the next two months, the telcos will strive to outdo each other with offers to grab the 700 million sports fans expected to watch the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket series, which started on Saturday. Their primary aim will be to garner heavy data subscribers who will push up the average revenue per user (ARPU), a key industry metric.

“Telcos will see an increase of at least 25-30% in their data revenue because of the IPL season and this may translate to a 10-15% uptick in ARPU for some time,” said Sandip Das, a senior advisor at Analysys Mason, a consulting and research firm that specialises in telecom, media and digital services.

The Indian telecom market is transforming from a voice-dominated service to a data-based one, spurred by the entry of 4G operator Reliance Jio in September 2016. Jio had 168 million broadband subscribers at the end of January, while Airtel had 75 million and Vodafone about 55 million, according to the regulator.

Airtel may have seen an up to 10% surge in data revenue from the live streaming of the India-South Africa cricket series in January-February, analysts estimated.

Jio and Airtel have tied up with streaming app Hotstar to offer unlimited free streaming of live IPL matches. Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio also launched a live mobile game and a comedy show for those who want to watch the games on Jio TV.

For telecom operators battling for subscribers over the past 16 months, the war has shifted to content. Wider access to 4G, affordable data and increasing availability of large-screen mobile phones with faster processing power at affordable rates have made video content popular.

The telcos are pegging content as the key differentiator, with industry ARPUs dipping by almost a fifth in the past four quarters to under Rs 80, dragged lower by rock-bottom voice and data rates, say analysts. SP Tulsian, founder of Premium Investments, said “Content and quality of content will be the driving force for telcos going ahead, with rates now almost similar across all existing operators.”

Industry executives and analysts said more content offerings will be weaved in as bundled packs increase. Offers that bundle voice and data account for about a fifth of all plans and are expected to rise to about 40% in a year, according to some estimates. About 25% of the country’s 1.15 billion wireless subscribers switched to bundled plans in the past nine months and this proportion is expected to rise to about 50% in the next two years.

“The ecosystem has now become more conducive to content and these offers will be a great differentiator,” said Sameer Batra, CEO – Content and Apps, Bharti Airtel..!!

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