State of Mobile Networks: India (October 2017)

The Indian 4G revolution is on, but like any young revolution it's experiencing some growing pains. In the six months since our last India report, OpenSignal has measured sizable increases in Reliance Jio's 4G speeds even while the speeds of its competitors declined. LTE availability was up across the board, while 3G speeds nose-dived. The enormous demand for mobile data hasn't abated, but the burden of that demand has spread to different networks. In our second State of Mobile Networks report for India, OpenSignal drew on more than 7 billion tests collected this summer from 708,504 mobile devices throughout India.


Jio takes our overall speed award as LTE speeds improves

We've tracked astonishing growth in Reliance Jio's LTE speeds in the last six months. At 5.8 Mbps, its 4G speed score was still the lowest of the four national 4G operators, but because of Jio's enormous LTE presence throughout India, it topped our overall speed charts.

Airtel tops OpenSignal's 3G, 4G speed charts

As it did six months ago, Airtel took both our 4G speed and 3G speed awards. We measured average LTE downloads of 9.2 Mbps and 3G downloads of 3.6 Mbps on its networks. Despite its wins though, both metrics were down from our last report.

Jio still the operator to beat in 4G availability

Jio's already impressive LTE reach has gotten even better in the last six months. Our Jio testers were able to latch onto an LTE signal more than 95.6% of the time, putting Jio 32 percentage points ahead of its nearest competitor in our availability metric.

Idea, Vodafone and Airtel improve in LTE reach but decline in speed

Though Jio was by far the market leader in 4G availability in our measurements, its three main rivals all made significant improvements in this metric as well. Even as access to LTE improved for Airtel, Idea and Vodafone, their tested 4G speeds all declined. This is likely a result of the intense competition for 4G customers since Jio's emergence.

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
RegionDownload Speed: 4GLatency: 4GAvailability: 4G

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In OpenSignal's last India report we documented the intense battle for 4G dominance between incumbent Bharti Airtel and upstart Reliance Jio. Well, that battle still rages, but there's definitely a new twist. In the past six months, Jio's 4G speeds have risen dramatically, coinciding perfectly with the end of its free-data bonanza in March. Though Airtel still took our 3G and 4G speed awards, Jio's superior 4G availability drove it to the top of our overall speed rankings. In short, Jio may not have had the fastest LTE speeds, but it delivered the fastest overall mobile data experience, according to our data.

In our second State of the Mobile Network: India report we analyzed more than 7 billion measurements collected from 708,504 mobile devices from subscribers across India. We examined the 3G and 4G consumer experience on six operator’s networks. Three of those providers — Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone — operate both 3G and 4G networks. Two, BSNL Mobile and Reliance Communications, solely operate 3G networks. The final operator, Reliance Jio, is a 4G-only provider. Though India has many more operators, the country’s complex regulatory environment means that each provider is licensed to operate in a particular set of regions, known as telecom circles. We chose these six operators as they all offer 3G and/or 4G services in a majority of those circles, making them the ideal candidates for our nationwide analysis.

In addition to our national rankings, OpenSignal has again turned the spotlight on specific telecom circles to see how these operators' 4G services stack up on a regional level. In our last report we examined four of India’s most economically significant regions, but for this analysis we’re expanding our scope. In addition to metro circles Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and major regions like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, we’re seeing how the operators fair in three mid-sized circles: Haryana, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. We feel this sampling will provide a more complete picture of how India’s rapidly growing 4G market looks in different parts of this vast country.

Jio’s wild ride

Jio has had quite the first year. Launching in a huge wave of media attention last September, Jio shook the Indian mobile data market to its core by offering free, nearly unlimited data plans. In less than six months, Jio had more than 100 million users subscribing to its 4G-only service, and in July, Jio President of Devices Sunil Dutt claimed that 85% of all mobile data consumption in India rode over Jio 4G connections. But Jio's enormous growth came at a cost. In our first State of Mobile Networks: India report, OpenSignal found that Jio trailed its three nationwide competitors in 4G speed, even though it offered by far the greatest level access to 4G signals in the country. The picture was pretty clear: while it was easy to find a Jio connection, there was so much competition for bandwidth that customers found those connections slowed down to near 3G speeds.

But when April arrived we started noticing some big changes in our measurements. As we noted in a recent blog post, Jio's 4G speeds started increasing at a rapid pace after its free data promotions ended on March 31. In the six months between reports, Jio's average 4G download speed result climbed from 3.9 Mbps to 5.8 Mbps — an astonishing 49% increase. As the free-data period concluded, something clearly happened to ease the congestion on Jio's network. A likely explanation is that Jio customers began restricting their data usage once they found themselves paying for the gigabytes they consumed, though network upgrades or customer losses could also explain the shift in speeds. Regardless of the reason, Jio's customers suddenly found themselves with more access to the 4G bandwidth, causing Jio's average LTE speed to increase considerably in our measurements.

Meanwhile Jio's competitors found out they weren't impervious to the congestion problems that originally hit Jio. Our LTE speed results for Airtel, Idea and Vodafone all dropped in the last six months. We measured the biggest decline in 4G speed on Airtel, falling from 11.5 Mbps to 9.1 Mbps. Meanwhile, Idea and Vodafone's average 4G speed test fell by about a megabit each in our most recent test period. Here we're almost certainly seeing the effects of the Indian mobile industry's response to Jio's massive growth. As Airtel, Idea and Vodafone try to combat Jio's aggressive mobile data pricing with cheap data plans of their own, usage on their networks is most likely increasing. That, in turn, is likely causing more congestion on their networks and forcing average speeds slower.

Despite all of these changes we're seeing, most of OpenSignal's speed rankings remained unchanged. As it did in our last report, Airtel won our 4G and 3G speed awards with average downloads of 9.2 Mbps Mbps and 3.6 Mbps respectively. Idea and Vodafone were still deadlocked for 2nd place in 4G download, each with a measured average LTE speed of 7.4 Mbps. And despite its big speed surge, Jio still ranked last in 4G speed. But the once yawning gulf between the fastest and slowest 4G operators has contracted, and the dynamics of speed in India are clearly changing. Nowhere is that trend more evident than in our overall speed measurements.

OpenSignal's overall speed metric takes into account both 3G and 4G speeds as well as the level of access consumers have to each service. It's intended to measure the typical mobile data experience across all of the networks a provider operates. Jio claimed our overall speed prize in this test period, averaging 5.8 Mbps, beating out Airtel's overall speed result of 5.1 Mbps. The difference maker here was Jio's 4G reach. While our Airtel testers spent nearly half their time on slower 3G connections, Jio was able to provide a relatively faster 4G link the vast majority of the time in our measurements. The bottom line: Our results may show that Airtel had the faster 4G speeds, but Jio provided a consistently faster mobile data experience overall.

Searching for 4G signals

We're seeing significant improvements in 4G reach among all of the major operators in India. All four 4G operators saw their LTE availability scores increase by at least 2 percentage points over the last six months, but the biggest gainers were Idea and Jio, who saw their availability scores jump by 4 percentage points each. In our last India report, only a single operator had 4G availability greater than 60%. Now three of India's four nationwide 4G operators have surpassed that benchmark. What this means is access to 4G services is on the rise in India as consumers can link to 4G networks more often.

There was still a huge gap between the best performer in 4G availability and worst, though. Our users were able to connect to Jio's LTE network 95.6% of the time, a testament to how comprehensive its 4G rollout has been. Meanwhile, Airtel ranked at the bottom of our availability charts. Our Airtel users were only able to find a 4G signal 57.2% of the time. Even though Airtel is improving, its 4G availability results were still relatively poor, which is one of the key reasons it fell behind Jio in our overall speed tests.

Given 4G signals are at times scarce in India, 3G remains a very important technology. 3G not only fills in the gaps between 4G connections, it's the primary mobile data technology for BSNL, Reliance and most of India's smaller operators. Here, too, we found a diverse range of average speeds. Reliance was the slowest 3G provider in our rankings, averaging download speeds of 1.7 Mbps, while Airtel was the fastest, averaging download speeds of 3.6 Mbps. Vodafone, however, was close on Airtel's heels. Its average 3G speed was 3.1 Mbps in our tests.

From a global perspective, both 3G and 4G speeds in India are fairly slow. No operator we tested in India exceeded either the global 3G download average of 4.4 Mbps or the global 4G download average of 16.2 Mbps that we measured in our last State of LTE report. What's more, the same congestion problems affecting 4G speed in India appear to be taking a toll on 3G as well. We recorded sizable drops in 3G speed from all five national operators examined in this report. BSNL took by far the the biggest 3G hit. Its average 3G speed in this test period was half of what it was six months ago.

The last category of metric we looked at was latency, which is a measure of a network's responsiveness. Low latency connections begin rendering websites much more quickly and cut down on delay in real-time communications apps like video chat. Latency is becoming a particularly important consideration as operators move their voice services off of 2G and onto the 4G network — high latency can ruin a VoIP phone call. In our tests, Vodafone had the fastest reaction time with an average latency of 54.3 milliseconds, as well as the best 3G latency, averaging 83.7ms.

Region by region

For our telecom circle analysis, we drew on our three core LTE metrics, examining how all 4G operators in a particular region compared in each category. It's important to note, however, that while all four 'national' 4G operators do provide services across the majority of India's 22 circles, they don't own licenses in all of them (with the exception of Jio). Idea, for instance, doesn't have 4G service in the Delhi and Kolkata metro circles, though it does in Mumbai. Meanwhile, Vodafone is absent from Madhya Pradesh. We've only included the relevant operators in the relevant regions.

We see many of the same operators that won our national awards winning their respective regional categories, but there are some interesting trends within the data. Jio dominated the 4G availability rankings in all eight regions, as it did nationally. But the other operators saw significant improvements in key areas. Vodafone and Airtel's LTE availability scores were much higher than their national scores in the Delhi and Mumbai circles, demonstrating a higher degree of penetration in India's largest urban areas. Meanwhile, Idea showed the strength of its LTE rollout in south India, with LTE availability scores over 70% in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Airtel was the uncontested leader in our 4G speed metric in five circles, and in several of these regions we got some impressive measurements. In Kolkata and Madhya Pradesh our 4G speed results for Airtel exceeded 18 Mbps — double its national average. In Karnataka and Kerala, though, competitors vied with Airtel for the 4G speed crown. In Tamil Nadu, Vodafone was the clear winner with average 4G downloads of 14 Mbps in our tests.

Idea and Airtel gave national 4G-latency winner Vodafone a stiff challenge in our regional ping tests. Vodafone won the latency award in three circles, but Idea and Airtel took the prize in Mumbai and Tamil Nadu respectively. We recorded draws in the remaining three regions. In Madhya Pradesh, Jio tied with Idea for the win even though nationally it had the worst 4G latency in our tests.

India is a mobile market that continues to captivate us as it maps out its mobile data future. Not only does it have an incredibly diverse set of operators and cellular technologies, it's in the midst of redefining the consumer's relationship to mobile data. Jio's emergence last year clearly unlocked a pent up demand for data, and how the operators are now responding to that demand is producing significant swings in our metrics. What's more, there are few signs that things will settle anytime soon. As the data deluge grows, operators are upgrading and expanding their LTE networks. New 4G services are set to emerge as BSNL ramps up its LTE rollout. And India's long list of service providers looks poised to shrink considerably. Airtel and Telenor, and Idea and Vodafone are in various stages of merger deals. Today we see Jio and Airtel waging a war for 4G dominance, but in another year we could see that battle fought by many more combatants.

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, 7,369,029,252 datapoints were collected from 708,504 users during the period: 2017-06-01 - 2017-08-31.

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.