* Bigger net loss than expected at 3.84 bln rupees
* Reliance Jio freebies have triggered price war
* Reliance Comms also reports third quarter loss
By Sankalp Phartiyal
MUMBAI, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Idea Cellular Ltd, India's third-biggest telecommunications operator, reported its first quarterly loss after a new rival forced carriers to cut prices in the highly competitive market.
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, controlled by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, opened for business in September and has shaken the Indian telecoms market with its free voice and cut-price data plans spurring a flurry of similar offers from incumbents led by Bharti Airtel Ltd.
That has increased costs, eroded margins and even forced Vodafone Group Plc's Indian unit to talk to Idea about combining their businesses, potentially creating the market's biggest carrier.
Idea, part of the Aditya Birla Conglomerate, on Saturday said it had a consolidated net loss of 3.84 billion rupees ($57.47 million) in its fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a net profit of 6.59 billion a year earlier.
The loss was slightly bigger than analysts' expectations of 3.71 billion rupees, according to Thomson Reuters data.
The core telecom operations loss, without including its stake in a telecom tower joint venture, was even higher at 4.79 billion rupees on a standalone basis, Idea said, and was the first-ever quarterly loss since June 2006, Thomson Reuters data.
Idea said in a statement it cut mobile voice rates by 10.6 percent and data prices by about 15 percent in the December quarter to retain its customers.
Revenue declined 3.8 percent from a year earlier to 86.63 billion rupees in the December quarter, while expenditure rose 10.3 percent to 84.63 billion, Idea said.
Smaller rival Reliance Communications also reported on Saturday a consolidated net loss of 5.31 billion rupees for the third quarter ended December. It also blamed competition among other factors for the loss. bit.ly/2kwmGaa
Bharti Airtel, the top Indian telecommunication carrier, reported its lowest quarterly profit for four years last month, hit by the price war. ($1 = 66.8131 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Devidutta Tripathy and Louise Ireland)