Growing up in an India where you had to wait at least a couple of hours to get connected on a “lightning call” to hear your grandparents’ voice from a couple of hundred km away over our OYT phones, the video call enabled smartphones of today would have been unimaginable. We now take a smartphone and its capabilities for granted, but the fact is that these are pretty powerful devices that we hold in our hands. However, even as technology leapfrogs to new forms of communication that we are still not sure about, it is becoming increasingly frustrating to use the technologies that we have with us. Call drops, for instance, have become so much a way of life that you would not be surprised if phone companies started charging for it soon—after all, it does appear to be their primary service these days. Long telephone conversations have become longer as it is a struggle to first connect the call, and then to sustain it for any duration, especially when you are on the move—even within your home.
Jokes apart, the fact is that the Indian mobile infrastructure is so congested that we have to soon start finding pressure valves to ease the stress on the existing network. Strangely, unlike many other countries, we did not invest much in a broadband-based backup grid that can take the load of the network when needed. Countries like Japan are peppered with femtocell-powered locations where connected devices don’t have to latch on to the grid. This helps to bridge the gap between towers as well as supplement the connectivity when needed. If you thought the advent of new players would improve the situation, then the joy has been short lived. If there is any possibility of a low congestion network in the near future, it seems to be to downgrade to 2G.
Interestingly, OpenSignal, the mobile analytics company that measures real-world mobile network experiences, recently released a report that said Patna was ahead of every other city in its 4G availability metric, which measures where users can get access to an LTE connection more of the time. That means it’s ahead of the Bengalurus and Punes—supposed to be India’s tech hubs. Hardly surprising that all those cities where people go online more, the experience is expected to be worse off. Significantly, Kolkata is the top metro on the list, just below small towns Patna, Kanpur and Allahabad. I’m writing this column from Kolkata and don’t have to think twice to say that things aren’t all that great if the City of Joy is at number 4.
One side-effect of these bad networks is that Indian smartphone users probably get the worst battery life in most of the mobile world. Take the same phone you have to charge twice a day to a country like the US and you realise what the actual battery life of your phone is. If over a decade ago India spearheaded the move towards dual SIMs, I think it might now be a good time to think of a dual multi-SIM phone that automatically diverts calls to whichever network is available. After all, these different numbers are now tied to a single user via Aadhaar and we might as well use this to our advantage. Otherwise, our phone batteries will continue to die untimely deaths in the search of non-existent networks.
Other than the ability to vent out frustrations in hard-worded tweets (and columns like these), the customer does not seem to have much of a choice now. The telecom regulator or the government does not seem to have really fathomed the seriousness of the issue. If there is a new-found love for old phones, at this rate we might all start wishing the trunk calls of yore will ring back into our lives again.