The government in India is becoming increasingly turned on to the potential of public Wifi networks, planning to provide coverage to some 250,000 Panchayats (local administrative offices) and 5000 railway stations within the next two years. This interest is justified as smartphone penetration grows. The World Bank believes that a 10% increase in Internet penetration can generate a 1.4% increase in GDP. And this would likely be even higher in a developing market like India with a large rural population and limited access to banking and e-payment services that smartphones can provide.
There's been a huge amount of excitement around 4G networks in India, as competition rises and more and more Indians are coming online. In our last State of Mobile Networks: India report, we measured substantial improvements in 4G availability in India, as operators have made access to LTE signals a new priority. But Wifi connectivity among mobile users is still relatively low in India, even though the focus on Wifi has been renewed.
Wifi networks don't get the same amount of interest in the subcontinent, as the evolution of telecoms has somewhat skipped the fixed-broadband stage of development and raced straight onto 4G. Nonetheless, there are a significant number of Wifi users in India connecting at home or at work, while publicly-accessible Wifi is becoming more and more important as data use increases.
Our data, which covers the 90 days from March 1, 2018, shows that of India's four biggest mobile operators, our users on Vodafone spend the most time connected to Wifi networks, at 20% of the time. This was followed by Airtel with 17%, Idea on 15%, and Jio at 7% in our measurements. In our most recent State of Mobile Networks: India report, we clocked Jio's 4G availability at a hugely impressive 96.4% – which may explain why our users on its network are connecting to Wifi less than those using its rivals. With that level of 4G connectivity, a lot of Jio customers may not be seeking out Wifi connections even when they're available.
While Wifi connectivity in India is growing, it is still well below more developed markets such as the U.S. where we have measured Wifi connectivity around the 50% mark. One of the key reasons for the relatively low Wifi connectivity in India is the limited penetration of home broadband. In Europe in particular, large numbers of subscribers buy their mobile, broadband, and TV services from one operator. But this business model is simply not affordable for most Indians, so the operators have largely chosen to concentrate on mobile as opposed to fixed-line networks. This is reflected in the low penetration of home broadband connectivity in the country. This may also explain why our users on Jio's mobile network spend significantly less time on Wifi compared to its rivals, since the operator has only just launched its JioFiber home broadband service.
Another reason for limited Wifi connectivity in India is a lot of new smartphone users have gone straight to 4G, so have simply never used Wifi for high-speed connectivity. This is beginning to change though, particularly as India's 4G networks become more congested and the operators launch Wifi offload programmes, encouraging users to switch to using Wifi hotspots with low-cost data offers. But these offers are quite new and hotspots are scarce, meaning it is unlikely they have yet made much of an impact on our Wifi connectivity measurements.
Wifi has arguably never been more relevant to India. Home broadband connections are becoming more affordable as the price war in the mobile sector spills over into fixed-line. And as cheap introductory 4G offers such as Jio's launch tariffs come to an end and India's thirst for mobile reaches new heights, more and more Internet users will be looking for cost-effective ways of consuming large amounts of data.
India has seen massive growth in its mobile networks in the past few years, catapulting it into the top 20 of the countries we measured for 4G availability. But 4G speeds in the country are still among the slowest we recorded, as LTE networks’ capacity has yet to catch up with reach. Wifi is not just a great option to take the strain off these mobile networks – it's vital to improve connectivity and fuel the growing digital economy.
Check out our latest State of Mobile Networks report for more on the India mobile market. What’s your experience with Wifi in India? Are you planning to use it more as your data demands increase? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.