India, the world's fastest-expanding mobile market, added more than 19 million cellular users last month to post the biggest monthly growth ever, according to official data Thursday.
India's number of mobile subscribers swelled by 19.10 million in December after climbing by 17.65 million the previous month, driven by some of the world's cheapest calling rates.
December's increase was a record for monthly wireless subscriber growth, according to figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) posted on its website.
India's mobile phone companies added an average of nearly 15 million subscribers a month in 2009 to bring the total number of cellular users to 525.15 million - up 51.4 percent from December 2008.
The sector's explosive growth has drawn a flood of global entrants in the past few years, sparking a cut-throat billing war among the players which has hit revenues and profits.
The new players that have beaten a path to the country of nearly 1.2 billion people include Norway's Telenor, Japan's NTT DoCoMo, Britain's Vodafone and Russia's Sistema JSFC, hoping to boost revenues and make up for saturated domestic markets.
At least another four cellular company launches are expected in the first half of this year in India including Emirates Telecommunications Corp, or Etisalat, India's Datacom Solutions and Loop Telecom.
With the new users added in December, 45 out of every 100 people in India now have a mobile phone. Total teledensity including fixed-line users now stands at 48 percent of the population.
The Cellular Operators' Association of India forecasts the country's mobile phones will number one billion by 2013.
But industry leaders and analysts say the cellular market is getting too crowded and forecast a savage period of consolidation in which the number of players will get whittled down to around half a dozen from the 14 currently.
As mobile subscriptions surged, the number of fixed-line telephone subscribers continued to fall, edging down to 37.06 million at the end of December from 37.16 million a month earlier, according to the TRAI figures.