5G in India is already improving the mobile experience

This Opensignal insight looks at how early 5G services fare in India. India concluded its much-awaited 5G spectrum auctions in August 2022, and soon after, on October 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 5G services. Currently, only two of the three major telecom operators in the country are providing 5G services in India. Airtel was the first to launch commercially, using non-standalone access (NSA) technology. By contrast, Jio has taken the 5G standalone access (SA) route and uses the 700 MHz band (5G low-band spectrum) that no other Indian operator currently has. As of December 8, Vi is yet to launch commercial 5G services. 

Although India's 5G services are at a nascent stage, Opensignal's analysis reveals that 5G  already delivers a massive uplift in users' mobile experience. This can be best seen when comparing 5G to 4G for users' download and upload speeds, as well as their experience when streaming mobile video and mobile multiplayer gaming.

Starting with average mobile speeds, our users in India racked up an impressive 242.1 Mbps on average when connected to 5G — a whopping 16.5 times faster than the 14.7 Mbps seen with 4G. In peak download speeds — the average speed experienced by the top 2% of users — the uplift from 4G to 5G is also remarkable. India's 5G peak download speed clocked in at 690.6 Mbps, 11.6 times faster than its 4G peak download speed.

Our users also enjoyed significantly faster average upload speeds with 5G compared to 4G services. However, the proportional uplift was lower than what was observed for download speeds. With 21.2 Mbps on average, upload speeds on 5G were 5.4 times faster than on 4G. While download speeds always attract the most attention, upload speeds are key to user experience, as sharing on social media or remote working activities, all benefit from fast upload speeds.

Looking at the experience of our smartphone users when streaming video over mobile connections, we found that our users in India enjoyed a Very Good (65-75) video experience when connected to 5G. In contrast, 4G Video Experience rated Fair (40-55) — two categories lower than 5G. A Very Good rating for Video Experience represents generally fast loading times and only occasional stalling, but the experience might have been somewhat inconsistent across users and/or video providers/resolutions. And as we descend to lower categories, loading times lengthen, and users encounter more stops and stutters in the video stream.

Likewise, for mobile multiplayer gaming in India, users enjoyed a significantly better experience with 5G than with 4G. With a score of 67.9 (on a 100 point scale), our Indian users had a Fair (65-75) Games Experience when connected to 5G, but this drops down to Poor (40-65) when connected to 4G. A Fair rating means users found the experience to be 'average'. In most cases, the game was responsive to the player's actions, with most users reporting that they felt like they had control over the game.

These findings prove that 5G delivers a significantly improved mobile network experience in India compared to older 4G services for download and upload speeds, video streaming, and multiplayer gaming. However, it's essential to understand that 5G is still very new in India, with relatively few 5G users in limited locations. 

To date, Airtel has offered 5G in 12 Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Guwahati, Panipat, Patna, Nagpur, Varanasi and Gurugram, as well as several airports across the country. At the same time, Jio's 5G was available in the Delhi-NCR region, Mumbai, Varanasi, Nathdwara, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata, and 33 district headquarters in the state of Gujarat. And as per announcements, Jio plans to achieve nationwide 5G coverage by the end of 2023, while Airtel aims to do so by March 2024

In Opensignal's previous analysis, ahead of the 5G launch, we found that a large addressable market for 5G already exists, not just in urban but also in peri-urban/rural areas of the country. Therefore, there is a massive opportunity for mobile operators in India, as they could quickly gain 5G subscribers by strategically rolling out services in cities/circles (LSAs) with higher proportions of users already owning 5G-capable smartphones. 

In the future, as operators continue to roll out their next-generation networks, it will be interesting to see how 5G impacts the overall mobile experience in India as more users start adopting the next-generation technology, 5G technology improves, and how 5G changes the competitive position of India's operators.