State of Mobile Networks: India (April 2017)

OpenSignal's first public report for India comes at an opportune time. The launch of Reliance Jio and its inexpensive all-inclusive service plans has shaken up the Indian mobile market, triggering a deluge of mobile data usage in a market that is still building out its mobile broadband infrastructure. Drawing on 1.3 billion measurements collected between December 2016 and February 2017, OpenSignal took its first close look at the dynamics of mobile data in India, comparing the 3G and 4G experience of our 93,464 Indian smartphone users on the country's major operators.


Airtel tops all of OpenSignal's speed rankings

Airtel didn't just win our 4G speed award, it wound up on top of our 3G and overall rankings as well. We measured Airtel's average LTE download speed at 11.5 Mbps, which was 3 Mbps faster than the results we measured on its nearest rivals Vodafone and and Idea.

Jio runs away with our LTE availability award

Jio may have only launched LTE in September, but its 4G service appears astonishingly pervasive. Our testers on Jio's network were able to find a 4G signal 91.6% of the time, an exceptional availability measurement by any global standard. In comparison, no other Indian operator scored higher than 60% in our availability tests.

4G speeds in India are still slow

While India's operators are competing heavily on speed, in the global scheme of things, India's 4G speeds are still quite low. In our speed analysis, all of India's operators fell well short of the 17.4 Mbps global average for 4G download speed.

A tight race for 4G dominance in four circles

OpenSignal took a closer look at four of India's most economically important regions to see how 4G services stacked up. We found Airtel, Vodafone and Jio all performed well in those select circles, though in different metrics.

Opensignal Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Download Speed: Overall Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G


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Performance by Metric

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by Opensignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by Opensignal users.

Download Speed: Overall

This metric shows the average download speed experienced by Opensignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by Opensignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by Opensignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time Opensignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

Regional Performance

This chart shows the regional winners in each category Opensignal measures. Click on the icons to see a more detailed graph showing each operator’s metrics in a particular region.

Legend: Airtel Jio Vodafone Idea
Region Download Speed: 4G Latency: 4G Availability: 4G

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To say competition is heating up India would be understatement. Already one of the world's most diverse mobile markets with nearly a dozen operators, India got a jolt in September with the launch of Reliance Jio and its new virtually unlimited plans. Given the rapidly changing dynamics of the Indian mobile sector, we at OpenSignal felt it was high time to release our first report on the country.

India is one of the most complex mobile markets we have ever studied. Not only is the mobile market extremely large, but it's a highly distributed one. India is divided up into 22 telecom circles, with multiple operators licensed to operate in each. That makes it quite difficult to compare operators to one another on a national level because not every operator is operating in every region. That said, through consolidation and acquisition several operators have recently emerged as national or near-national providers, offering either voice or mobile broadband services in the large majority of India's circles. For our national comparison, we selected the operators that were able to meet that criteria for the different mobile technologies we measure. We picked India's newest nationwide 4G-only operator Jio as well as BSNL Mobile and Reliance Communications, which offer widespread 3G services though no dedicated LTE services of their own. Finally we also selected the three operators providing both 3G and 4G services on a large-scale basis: Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

The Indian mobile user base also has some rather unique characteristics. A disproportionate percentage of mobile consumers own multiple SIM cards, resulting in many users tapping into two or more operators' networks on the same device. Also in India, we’ve noticed a big divide between highly active and intermittently active users, resulting in a huge amount of data coming from a handful of subscribers. Fortunately we're able to account for both these situations in our methodology. We've successfully identified dual-SIM users in our data and are able to assign the proper measurement to the proper network. We also account for highly active users by weighting equally the impact of each user on the overall network average — we emphasize the experience of individual users rather than individual speed tests.

With those precautions in place, OpenSignal is happy to present its first State of Mobile Networks report for India, which draws on more than 1.3 billion measurements conducted by 93,464 OpenSignal smartphone users between Dec. 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017. For our national section, we ranked each of our six operators in six 3G and 4G metrics (though we only included them in technology categories in which they have networks). Furthermore, we decided to take a closer look at the 4G capabilities in four of India's most significant telecom circles: Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Let's kick things off by looking at our national data.

Reach vs. Power

The first metric we examined was 4G availability, which is a measure of how often our users were able to find an LTE signal on the various operators' networks. In this category, Jio stood well ahead of the pack. Our testers were able to latch onto a Jio LTE connection 91.6% of the time nationally. That availability score isn't just impressive for India — more than 30 percentage points ahead of Jio's rivals — but it's an exceptional score on the global level. Only a handful of operators have crossed the 90% availability threshold, showing that Jio has lived up to its promises to build a far-reaching 4G service in a relatively short amount of time.

None of the three other 4G operators passed the 60% availability mark in our tests. Idea and Vodafone contested the second spot in our rankings, each averaging LTE availability metrics of 59%, while Airtel ranked in last place. Our users were able to make an Airtel LTE connection only 54.7% of the time. Though LTE availability in many countries is well ahead of what we see from these three operators, it's important to remember India has regulatory and competitive dynamics we don't see in other regions. LTE footprints are still expanding as operators move out of their traditional territories into new telecom circles. As this report is published, new LTE networks are just launching commercially in new cities and circles, while others are in earlier stages of deployment. Still, it's clear at this stage Airtel, Idea and Vodafone are still leaning heavily on their 3G services to pick up the 4G slack.

Next let's look at 4G availability's counterpart, 4G speed. Here we see our rankings reversed. Airtel excelled in our 4G speed tests, winning our LTE speed award with an average download connection of 11.5 Mbps. There was another close race between Vodafone and Idea in this metric, each averaging more than 8 Mbps in our LTE download tests. Meanwhile, Jio came in at the bottom of our rankings with an average measured download speed of 3.9 Mbps (For more details on the specific methodology we used for India see this blog post).

Ironically the limited speeds we find in our Jio tests can be explained by Jio's success. Networks are shared resources with a limited amount of capacity. The more users connecting to a network, the more individual connection speeds suffer. Jio garnered 100 million subscribers in a space of six months, and it gave those customers nearly free reign to consume as much data as they liked. Such a huge onslaught of 4G data usage would tax any network, no matter how powerful.

In the larger global picture, India's 4G speeds are still relatively slow. Our results for all four national 4G operators fell well below the global LTE download average of 17.4 Mbps, as measured in our last State of LTE report.

The impact of 3G

When we examine our 3G data, we get a first look at BSNL and Reliance Communications, though neither make an outsized impact. Reliance came in last in our rankings, averaging 3G download speeds of 2.6 Mbps in our tests. BSNL and Idea landed in the middle of our 3G chart, each with a measured average download of 3.4 Mbps. Airtel and Vodafone took our top slots for 3G speed, and their test averages of 4.7 Mbps and 4.3 Mbps were actually higher than the average 4G speed we measured on Jio.

Airtel's 3G speed win was a factor in it also taking our overall speed award, as it helped it overcome its low score in LTE availability. Overall speed tracks the typical download connection a user sees across an operator’s 3G and 4G networks (We exclude 2G as 2G results vary little from operator to operator and generally don’t provide enough bandwidth for an adequate mobile data experience). Our testers may have only been able to access an Airtel LTE signal roughly half the time, but when they fell back to the 3G network they enjoyed impressive connection speeds. Coupled with its leading 4G speed ranking, Airtel had the highest overall speeds in our tests with an average of 6.2 Mbps. 3G also moved Vodafone into second place in the overall rankings with an average download of 5.1 Mbps. Jio's overall speed score was the same as its 4G speed score, pulling it roughly even with Idea in the category. Meanwhile BSNL and Reliance — which didn't have the benefit of LTE to pull up their scores — rounded out the bottom of our overall speed rankings.

The final metric we examined was latency, which is effectively a measure of a network's reaction time. The lower the latency, or ping, of a 3G or 4G connection the better real-time communications services like Skype or VoLTE and the more quickly web pages start loading. Vodafone walked off with both of our latency awards, averaging 54.3 milliseconds in our 4G ping tests and 83.7ms in our 3G ping tests.

A 4G look at 4 circles

In the final part of our analysis, we narrowed our focus to examine the 4G experience in four of India's circles. While we realize four circles isn't a comprehensive look at regional performance, we wanted to offer a snapshot of specific regions where LTE is having a big impact. We selected the metro circles Delhi and Mumbai and the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which include two of India's other major economic centers Bengaluru and Chennai.

Not every one of our national 4G operators offers service in every circle so we included only the relevant operators in each region. Also, as we pointed out before, India's mobile scene is constantly evolving with operators launching LTE in new places on nearly a monthly basis. In some cases, we don't have enough data from a particular operator in a circle in which it just started offering service. For instance, Idea only began offering LTE in South India last year. While we have enough data to examine its new service in Tamil Nadu, we don't have enough measurements yet to do the same in Karnataka. An even more extreme case is Vodafone's 4G network in Tamil Nadu, which was completed in March, one month after the testing period for this report concluded.

For the most part the regional results back up our national data. Jio ran the table in 4G availability, though in Karnataka and Mumbai its scores fall below the 90% mark. Still with 88% or better LTE availability in our regional measurements, Jio did an excellent job providing signal to our smartphone users. In almost every case, the other operators in each circle improved upon their national availability scores, though not enough to significantly close the gap with Jio.

In 4G speed, Airtel again asserted its strength in our tests. Airtel won our 4G speed in all circles except Tamil Nadu where it tied with Idea. Mumbai in particular was notable in our results as we measured significantly faster speeds for Airtel and Jio than we did in the country overall. For instance, our user tests found Jio's average speed in Mumbai to be 6.5 Mbps, 66% faster than its national score. In India's financial capital, operators seem to be doing a better job providing more consistently fast speeds. Our regional 4G latency results were a bit more mixed. Vodafone won our 4G latency award in Delhi and Mumbai, and in Karnataka it tied with Airtel, but in Tamil Nadu, Airtel emerged as the sole latency winner.

India is a fascinating market that will only continue to get more intriguing. What was a patchwork of different regional operators is now producing a handful of national operators. Nearly every major network technology in the world are on offer in India, from HSPA to CDMA and WiMAX to TD-LTE. And while the total number of operators is shrinking through consolidation, India's mobile market still has a surprising number of options (as opposed to the three or four operators in most countries). Even new operators like Jio are emerging and they're having no small impact.

Those dynamics will only keep OpenSignal on its toes. With this first report we plan to introduce more coverage of India both through future reports and our blog. It's not everyday that you see a mobile industry recreate itself.

Our Methodology

Opensignal measures the real-world experience of consumers on mobile networks as they go about their daily lives. We collect 3 billion individual measurements every day from tens of millions of smartphones worldwide.

Our measurements are collected at all hours of the day, every day of the year, under conditions of normal usage, including inside buildings and outdoors, in cities and the countryside, and everywhere in between. By analyzing on-device measurements recorded in the places where subscribers actually live, work and travel, we report on mobile network service the way users truly experience it.

We continually adapt our methodology to best represent the changing experience of consumers on mobile networks and, therefore, comparisons of the results to past reports should be considered indicative only. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data, see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 1,306,005,242 datapoints were collected from 93,464 users during the period: 2016-12-01 - 2017-02-28.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

Opensignal Limited retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by Opensignal Limited may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.

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