"We expect 4G smartphone base to jump from 5 million in FY 2015 to 180 million (18 crores) by FY 2018, leading to 4G subscribers accelerating from almost zero in FY 2016 to 90 million (9 crores) by FY 2018," a report by BoFA ML research analysts Sachin Salgaonkar, Karan Parmanandka and Simon Dong-je Woo said.
In next few years, there will be marginal difference between 3G and 4G tariffs as well as there will be decline in smartphone prices that may lead 2G subscribers leapfrog to 4G services and skip 3G, analysts expect.
"We expect 4G net adds to be faster than 3G net adds by FY 2019 and estimate 3G subscribers to be largely restricted in areas where 4G coverage is limited.
"However, we do expect 3G subscribers uptake to be strong for the next couple of years, at least, as 3G coverage would likely be better than 4G coverage," the report said.
The analysts said that the big three players - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular - will gain if Reliance Jio Infocomm commercial 4G service launch is delayed. "With all the big 3 telcos expected to have rolled out 4G selectively in key urban areas before March, 2016 we expect their top-end (high usage) consumers to migrate to 4G.
"This, in our view, will make it difficult for Jio to poach these subscribers as the company would need to focus on offering a differentiated service," it added. As per last update from Reliance Jio, the company has not changed its position to launch its service in December as committed by chairman Mukesh Ambani.
Analysts said 4G tariffs are expected to come down with the launch of Reliance Jio 4G services but they do not see lower pricing strategy to be a sustainable offering by Jio to poach the subscribers.
"We note that top 5 percent customers (mainly post-paid) of the big 3 telcos contribute to 15 percent of their revenues. These customers are unlikely to switch to Jio given the comfort these customers have with their existing operators and general laziness to switch unless there is a very compelling proposition," the report said.
It, however, estimates Reliance Jio to be market leader in terms of 4G subscriber base from 2017 onwards till 2025, followed by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular.
Bharti Airtel has commercially launched 4G service in 296 cities with 35,000 base-stations and 4G tariffs at 3G prices. Vodafone has announced to launch 4G commercial service in some cities by December and Idea in 10 circles by June.
"The company (Jio) is looking for 4G phones to be priced between Rs. 4,000-25,000. Jio would need a 5 band phone which works on 900, 2100 bands along with 800, 1800 and 2300 for seamless connectivity," the report added.