11 Jul 2017 20:56 IST

Taking stock of mobile Internet in India

The country has witnessed nearly a 70 per cent growth in mobile data traffic in the last year

Mobile subscriptions witnessed a sharp surge in the June quarter of 2017 thanks to the free voice and data services offered by Reliance Jio. The services offered at discounted tariffs by other players in the telecom sector, such as Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, in this period also aided the growth.

Global mobile subscriptions grow at about 4 per cent year-on-year, but India recorded the sharpest increase in terms of net additions (about 43 million subscriptions) during the June quarter, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report June 2017.

The digital drive in the country and data availability at lower prices are key factors pushing the demand for data. Between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017 the country witnessed nearly 70 per cent growth in mobile data traffic. Video streaming, social media applications and bank transactions generate nearly 60 per cent of data traffic.

As digitisation continues to penetrate the country, the demand for data will grow further and in the era of a digital economy, the one thing that matters when it comes to the Internet is speed. Indian telecommunication operators are battling for speed and connectivity to maintain the upper hand.

Improving connectivity

Speed and connectivity are two sides to mobile Internet. Telecom companies across the world compete intensely to provide the best service in these two aspects. In India, ‘intense’ is an understatement! Stiff competition has led to consolidation of the telecom sector, leaving the country with only a few operators competing to retain their market position.

In terms of 4G network availability, Reliance Jio has exceptional network connectivity, according to an OpenSignal report. Nearly 91.6 per cent of the time one would be able to connect to Jio’s 4G network. Airtel, one of the top players, has the lowest 4G connectivity while Idea and Vodafone connect about 59 per cent of the time.

The Jio drive has helped India attain a global position, among the top 15 countries, when it comes to 4G network availability. South Korea and Japan lead in 4G availability with over 90 per cent, while India has had 82 per cent availability this year (an improvement from 71.6 per cent in 2016). Notably, countries with higher Internet speed need not necessarily hold the top ranks for 4G connectivity. For instance, the 4G speed in New Zealand is 34.91 mbps and connectivity is less than 60 per cent though it ranks high in terms of Internet speed, says the report.

4G speed in India

In India, mobile wireless Internet subscription accounts for 95 per cent of the total Internet subscription and the country has witnessed network speed transition from 2G to 3G and 4G in a few years. According to the OpenSignal report, Airtel has the best 4G and 3G download speed at 11.53 mbps, followed by Idea at 8.3 mbps. The new operator Reliance Jio’s 4G download speed is 3.9 mbps, the lowest among its peers.

However, overall Internet speed is still slow at 5.14 mbps when compared to global average of 17.4 mbps. Though players such as Airtel, Jio and Idea have improved their Internet speed, India is unable to match countries such as Singapore, which runs at 45.6 mbps.

The low mobile data speed could be due to the millions of subscribers who try to access the same network at the same time. Networks have limited capacity, and the more the number of individuals who try to connect to it, the slower the speed gets. Globally, early adopters dominate in 4G as they have had enough time to deploy the necessary technology, and optimise and upgrade their networks.

Slow yet steady, India is catching up as telcom players are making capital investments in infrastructure and technology to deploy faster 4G services and meet the growing data demand. Because of the digital India initiative, the Government is addressing spectrum policy issues and connecting the banking system to the digital platform. As 4G connection is expected to grow five-fold at an annual average growth rate of about 38 per cent from 2016 to 2021, India would by then be capable of handling the digital data appetite.