Reliance Jio was the only telecom operator to add subscribers in the rural part of the country in July 2023. This is likely because of the telco's low-cost offerings compared to the competition. Jio recently announced the JioBharat phone platform. It enables users to purchase a 4G feature phone for just Rs 999. This could be a deal breaker for the people in rural India who just want a phone to do UPI payments as well as communicate with others over data and voice in an effective manner.
As per the TRAI data, Jio added 1,999,738 users or approximately 2 million users. At the same time, Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) lost 540,000 and 690,000 subscribers. Jio has over 194 million users in rural India while Airtel and Vi have 180 million and 111.32 million users.
It is worth noting that when it comes to 4G availability, Jio is also ahead of the competitors (as per Opensignal data). This also plays a role in Jio having more subscribers in rural parts. Bharti Airtel's CEO, Gopal Vittal had also said that they are shifting their focus on rural India as well. Airtel has identified thousands of villages where it can potentially generate positive returns.
One major reason why Airtel doesn't have a larger customer base than Jio in rural parts is that it doesn't want to engage much with low-paying customers, which Jio has no issues doing. Jio looks at the scale of the market while Airtel looks at how much it can extract from the high-paying customers.
The JioBharat Phone platform is definitely going to put Jio in the eyes of more customers. What's interesting here is that the lowest tariff plan in the industry amongst the private telcos is offered by Vodafone Idea (Vi), and not Jio or Airtel. Yet the telco has not been able to make its place in the heart of the customers the way competitors have.