Telecom operators in India are no longer bundling SMS benefits with their low-value prepaid recharge plans that are available under Rs. 100. As an industry-wide practice, players including Reliance Jio, Airtel, and Vi (formerly Vodafone Idea) have updated their entry-level plans to not club them with any SMS message allocation. It will be a major blow to low-paying customers for whom outgoing SMS messages meant easy access to facilities like mobile number portability (MNP), as well as SMS-based access to services including unified payments interface (UPI).
In 2017, Jio had introduced a Rs. 98 plan which did have SMS and even received an update that increased its SMS message quota from 100 messages to 300. But that plan was later removed. When Jio reintroduced the plan in May 2021, SMS had been removed. That was followed by Airtel after a few days and Vi (Vodafone Idea) made the same move in June, Gadgets 360 has learnt.
Telcos including Jio, Airtel, and Vi have their low-value recharge options for prepaid customers to offer them with unlimited voice calling and high-speed data connectivity.
Jio currently has the Rs. 98 plan as its lowest in the prepaid recharge portfolio. It offers 1.5GB high-speed data on a daily basis and unlimited voice calls, along with validity of 14 days. Jio also has the Rs. 39 prepaid recharge plan with 1.4GB high-speed data access and unlimited voice calls for 14 days. It is, however, limited to Jio Phone customers and is not available to regular users. Jio Phone users also have a Rs. 75 prepaid plan that does include 50 SMS messages alongside 3GB high-speed data and unlimited voice calls for 28 days.
Unlike Jio, Vi has a Rs. 49 prepaid plan as its cheapest option, with 100MB data and Rs. 38 talktime for 28 days. The Vi pack also makes local and national calls at 2.5 paise per second.
Airtel, on the other hand, recently made the Rs. 79 plan its lowest monthly recharge and discontinued the earlier Rs. 49 plan. The Rs. 79 Airtel prepaid plan carries Rs. 64 talktime, 1 paisa per second local and STD call rates, 106 minutes of outgoing calls, and 200MB data for 28 days.
Industry sources told Gadgets 360 that the operators made the move to no longer provide SMS benefits with their affordable plans to increase their average revenue per user (ARPU). Customers would pick an additional SMS pack or go for a higher value plan if they want to send text messages, a person familiar with the development said.
Jio had a flat ARPU of Rs. 138.4 in the first quarter of financial year 2022. Airtel and Vi in their fiscal fourth quarter results reported their ARPUs at Rs. 145 and Rs. 102, respectively.
Cellular Association of India (COAI) declined to comment on the update.
The move by telecom operators is expected to impact customers recharging with entry-level plans if they wanted to access services such as UPI as they require to send an SMS message to verify users. Similarly, the unavailability of an SMS message quota in low-value plans will restrict some consumers who are looking to move from one network to another using MNP.