The Indian market is primed for the launch of 5G – the next generation of mobile broadband – and its rollout will help improve India’s overall mobile speed rankings, besides ushering in an era of stability for Indian mobile operators and the regulator, says Doug Suttles, CEO and co-founder of Ookla, the company best known for its Speedtest rankings.
Currently, India is ranked 115th on Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index for mobile broadband. The average mobile download speed was 14.28 Mbps in May 2022. “With three large-scale operators, we’re unlikely to return to the price wars that occurred during the early 4G tech cycle, which is important for ensuring adequate investment in networks,” noted Suttles.
According to the latest update from Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, 5G networks will become operational in 20-25 cities and towns by the end of the year. The Centre has invited bid applications for spectrum auctions starting July 26, after the Cabinet last week cleared a proposal to auction over 72,000 MHz, or 72 GHz, of airwaves with a validity period of 20 years.
But Ookla’s CEO cautioned that India is still “playing catch-up with already established 5G markets; it’s not starting from scratch”. Thanks to the affordability of mobile data, “Indian consumers are some of the heaviest data users globally”, consuming on average 17GB per user in 2021, according to Nokia’s latest India Mobile Broadband Index.
“Our Speedtest Video data shows that for the median user, Indian networks supported an adapted average bitrate of 3.59 Mbps in Q1 2022. This is some way short of what’s required to support full HD content. The video-streaming market is clearly calling out for the increased bandwidth and lower latency 5G will bring,” he said. Ookla is seeing a large proportion of Indian consumers run Speedtest using
5G-capable devices, since most brands have been introducing 5G-ready options. Research firms such as Counterpoint Research estimate that by the end of 2022, 5G phones will account for almost 40% of all smartphones shipped in India.”
But Suttles stressed that 5G is more of an enterprise play. “Indian operators have been working to formulate their strategy around 5G enterprise use cases and bring in an ecosystem of partners to deliver on that. For instance, Airtel has started to roll out 5G-ready network equipment, and Jio is testing its own 5G Open RAN solutions.”
According to him, another potential option for internet connectivity in India is satellite internet. Companies such as Starlink and OneWeb (which has Airtel as a majority investor) are already working on the technology. He pointed out that in the future, “satellite internet services will serve as a competitive play in urban areas, particularly where fibre hasn’t been deployed, offering competitive speeds (as we’ve seen from our recent analysis).” But sizable costs could put a dampener on satellite internet becoming very popular in the price-sensitive Indian market, he admitted.