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Indian operators are hearing the call of 4G revolution. In the last six months, we have measured substantial improvements in 4G availability in India, as operators have made access to LTE signals a new priority. 4G Speeds, however, remained stagnant, but that could soon change as the wave of consolidation clears the way for new high-capacity networks.
Indian operators are still focused on growing LTE's reach rather than injecting more speed into their 4G services. We recorded 4G availability increases for every major operator over the last six months. All of India's major 4G providers have now crossed the 65% LTE availability threshold, and three of them are now nearing the 70% mark. But we saw little movement in our 4G download metrics. In fact, we tracked slight drops in LTE speeds for three operators.
Airtel held onto our 3G and 4G speed awards since OpenSignal's last report, and it wrested our overall speed award away from Jio, locking down the top spot in all three of our speed categories. Jio, however, remained the closest contender in overall speed due to its high level of 4G access. It was able to deliver typical everyday download speeds of 5.1 Mbps in our tests, compared to Airtel's 6 Mbps.
Jio is still far ahead of its key rivals in 4G availability, beating all three by at least 27 percentage points in our measurements. Our testers were able to find an LTE signal on Jio's network 96.4% of the time in our latest test period, up from 95.6% in our October report.
While Airtel dominated in 4G speed nationally, Idea bested its larger competitor in both west and east Uttar Pradesh in our results, while Vodafone won our regional 4G speed awards in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Both operators were tied for first in LTE speed in several other regions as well.
|Download Speed: 4G
|Download Speed: 3G
|Download Speed: Overall
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by Opensignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by Opensignal users.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Download Speed: 4G
|Uttar Pradesh (East)
|Uttar Pradesh (West)
In our third State of Mobile Networks report for India, we parsed billions of measurements collected by 736,571 smart device users in the months of December, January and February. We analyzed that data to compare the 4G services of India's four major 4G operators Airtel, Idea, Jio and Vodafone as well as the 3G services of BSNL Mobile. Though India has many more operators than these five, 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 operators as they all offer 3G and/or 4G services in the large majority of those circles, making them the ideal candidates for our nationwide analysis. The number of national operators is also steadily shrinking. We included Reliance Communications (RCom) in the 3G analysis of our last report, but since the operator has exited the consumer mobile business and has shut down much of its 2G and 3G operations.We've also performed our most detailed regional analysis to date in this report, breaking down our 4G metrics for all four major LTE service providers in 18 telecom circles. In many cases we find operators in individual states bucking national trends. First, though, let's look at the metric where we see the most intense activity in India: 4G availability.
Jio continued to dominate our 4G availability metric as our testers were able to access an LTE signal 96.4% of the time. Such a score is exceptional, reflecting Jio's commitment to build out a 4G-only network without 3G mobile data services to fall back on. What's more, Jio's impressive LTE reach is only improving, though incrementally. In our last India report in October, we measured Jio's 4G availability at 95.6%.
There's good news, though, for all of India's nationwide 4G operators when it comes to availability. We saw huge jumps in this metric from Airtel, Idea and Vodafone. In our last report none of these three operators had an LTE availability score higher than 65%. Now all three have surpassed that bar, and two of them — Idea and Vodafone — are closing in on the 70% mark. Airtel demonstrated by far the biggest improvement in 4G reach, boosting its 4G availability by more than 9 percentage points to 66.8% in our measurements. But Airtel was also the furthest behind in this metric six months ago, so its recent surge in availability didn't propel it ahead of any of its competitors in our rankings. Airtel did, however, close the gap separating itself from Idea and Vodafone, both of which had 4G availability scores just over 68% in our tests.
All three still have a considerable way to go before they catch up to Jio, which was 27 percentage points clear of its nearest competitor in this metric. But the spate of activity we see in our availability metric is a positive sign for the Indian mobile market. It shows that Airtel, Idea and Vodafone aren't conceding to Jio in the race to extend LTE access across the subcontinent. They're actively extending the reach of their 4G services and they're doing so at an an ever-quickening pace. Those efforts are reflected in India's global availability rankings. In our latest State of LTE report, published in February, India moved into the 85th percentile in LTE availability where it joined high-performing 4G countries like Sweden, Taiwan and Australia.
While India is making big leaps forward in 4G availability, we can't say the same thing about 4G speed. There was very little change in our speed metrics since our last report. Our results show Airtel's 4G speeds ticked up incrementally, while the other three operators saw their speeds fall off slightly since our last report. Our LTE speed rankings, though, remained the same. Airtel won the 4G speed crown with an average download of 9.3 Mbps, but even the best LTE speed score in India was well below the global 4G download average of 16.9 Mbps recorded in our State of LTE report. In that same report we found India ranked last of the 88 countries analyzed in 4G speed.
Airtel held onto OpenSignal's 3G speed award, although since our last report we did see its average HSPA download test decline from 3.6 Mbps to 2.7 Mbps. It wasn't the only one. Vodafone's 3G speeds also dropped by nearly a megabit between reports, while Idea experienced a smaller decline in our 3G measurements. Of the four national 3G operators, BSNL was the only one to produce any gains in our measured 3G speeds. Typically we don't see much movement in our 3G metrics as most operators have focused their attention on 4G services. But the declines we're tracking could be a knock-on effect to the increased levels of competition in India. As operators offer cheaper and more expansive data plans to their customers, their 3G — as well as 4G — networks face additional capacity constraints, causing average HPSA speeds to fall.
Airtel completed the treble of speed awards by winning our overall speed category, which factors in 4G speed, 3G speed and the availability of each type of network. Airtel's overall average download of 6 Mbps beat out Jio's average of 5.1 Mbps in the current report, but we find an interesting contest brewing between the top two operators in this category. Airtel won overall speed in our first India report only to see Jio claim the prize six months ago. Airtel has always had a big advantage over Jio in our 4G speed metric, but Jio makes up for it with superior 4G availability results. Jio customers simply have access to faster 4G connections far more often than Airtel customers, according to our data. We're likely to see the two operators trade back this award again in future reports.
In our final set of metrics, we found Vodafone staking its flag in a key aspect of network performance: latency. Vodafone won our 3G and 4G latency awards outright, meaning we found the fastest response times on both its HSPA and LTE connections. Latency is key to real-time communications apps and faster load times in web browsing and media streaming. It's also becoming increasingly important as Indian operators launch voice-over-LTE services, which depend on low lag times to make conversations comprehensible. Vodafone's tested 4G latency was 66.4 milliseconds, just beating out Airtel's score of 70.3ms. Over 3G connections, we measured Vodafone's response time at 116.9ms, which was 10ms faster than its nearest competitor's result.
Just because an operator won a national award doesn't mean it dominated that metric in every region. In our 18-telecom circle 4G analysis, we found several operators making their mark in particular states and regions. Keeping with its national form, Airtel won our 4G speed award in 10 of the 18 circles we analyzed, but the speed prizes in the other eight regions were up for grabs. Idea won 4G speed outright in both Uttar Pradesh telecom circles — making a clean sweep of India's most populous state. Meanwhile Vodafone took the awards in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Idea and Vodafone also closely contested several other regions, producing draws for our 4G awards in Bihar, Kerala, Kolkata and West Bengal.
In general, 4G speeds in the individual regions tracked with our national results, but there were a few overperforming and underperforming circles in our measurements. In Kerala, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, all of the 4G operators analyzed exceeded their national averages, producing speeds notably faster than in the rest of the country. In Madhya Pradesh, we recorded the fastest average speed of all of the 18 regions: 14.4 Mbps on Airtel's network. In Bihar and east Uttar Pradesh we saw the opposite trend in our data as all operators' 4G speed averages fell short of their national averages. The slowest average speed we recorded across the 18 circles was 3.2 Mbps on Vodafone's network in west Uttar Pradesh.
In the 4G latency column, we saw an even closer fought battle for regional primacy. Our national award winner Vodafone won or drew for our LTE response-time awards in seven of the 15 circles in which it offers 4G services, including outright wins in Orissa, Punjab, east Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. But Airtel and Idea made strong showings in the remaining circles. Our results show Idea won 4G latency outright in Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Mumbai, and it tied for first place in three others. Airtel was the undisputed winner of our 4G latency award in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, while it drew for first place in five more circles. Though Jio doesn't traditionally measure strongly in 4G latency, it did pull off a small coup in Kolkata, drawing with Airtel for our response time award.
We generally see a disparity between the metro circles and the larger regional circles when it comes to 4G latency. In Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai response times were typically 10-20ms quicker than national averages, and we recorded our best regional latency score of 46ms in Mumbai over Idea's network. The concentration of optical fiber and telecom infrastructure in big cities means urban users often have access to much more responsive mobile data connections (customers are closer to the egress points of the Internet). But we also found that Haryana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also performed relatively well in our 4G latency metrics. The two southern states happen to contain two of the biggest tech hubs and economic centers in India, Bangalore and Chennai, while Haryana surrounds capital Delhi on three sides.
In our last regional category, 4G availability, there wasn't any contest to speak of. National award winner Jio won our availability awards in all 18 circles we analyzed, often by very large margins of 20 percentage points or more. In every circle we examined, Jio's availability rating was above 95%, meaning our users failed to connect to its LTE network less than 5% of the time across all 18 regions. Its LTE reach was particularly impressive in Kolkata and Punjab where its availability scores rose beyond 97%. LTE-only operators like Jio typically have much higher 4G availability than their multi-network competitors as they rely almost entirely on their 4G networks to provide their core mobile data and voice services. But Jio's exceptionally high availability numbers in every circle are quite the testament to how far Jio has extended its 4G service across India.
Though none of India's other 4G operators were able to vie for our regional availability awards, our data nonetheless shows where Airtel, Idea and Vodafone are ramping up their 4G rollouts, making the biggest challenges to Jio in 4G service reach. Idea has clearly been expanding its networks in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Tamil Nadu — all circles where our testers could find an Idea 4G signal more than 75% of the time. Our results show that Vodafone crossed the 75% availability threshold in two circles, Delhi and Karnataka, and that it was the only operator other than Jio to surpass the 80% 4G availability benchmark in any region. In Delhi, Vodafone was able to provide a 4G connection to our users 81.1% of the time.
Airtel's best 4G availability scores were in Kolkata and Mumbai, where it rated just below 75%. As one would expect, though, 4G services were more readily accessible in the metro circles than they were in the larger regions. Nearly all of the operators offering services in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai racked up higher availability scores in those cities than their national averages — often by 6 percentage points or more. On the flip side, India had several underperforming regions in LTE availability. In Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the majority of operators scored below their national availability averages. The lowest 4G availability we recorded in the 18 circles was in Orissa: Our Vodafone testers in that state could only find a 4G connection 41.6% of the time.
You have to give India's operators credit for their single-mindedness. While 4G speed might be the more alluring metric when it comes to flashy headlines, India's four major 4G operators have chosen instead to steadfastly focus on expanding the breadth of their LTE services. Even a low capacity and heavily congested 4G network offers superior speed and response times than almost any 3G network. By bringing 4G connections to more people in more places more often, the overall consumer mobile data experience only improves.In the last six months, we've seen Airtel, Idea and Vodafone redouble their 4G expansion efforts, each posting sizable increases in our 4G availability metric. No doubt competitive pressure from Jio provided much of the impetus for those improvements, but Indian consumers were definitely the beneficiary. We expect that trend to continue, pushing all of India's major 4G operators past the 70% LTE availability mark this year. Those gains will almost certainly propel India into the global top 10 in 4G availability, joining countries like the South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and the Netherlands. That would be quite the accomplishment for a developing country that was fairly late to join the LTE revolution.
For now, faster 4G speeds will have to wait — but perhaps not too long. The Indian mobile market is undergoing seismic M&A shifts, which could directly lead to much higher capacity, and therefore faster, 4G networks. Spectrum has long been a scarce resource for individual Indian operators because the airwaves have been divided up among nearly a dozen different players across the subcontinent. But the number of operators is rapidly shrinking. RCom has run into financial troubles while Aircel has declared bankruptcy. Both plan to sell off their spectrum assets. Airtel is in the final phases of acquiring regional 4G operator Telenor and is bidding to take over Tata Teleservices. But the biggest deal of them all, Idea-Vodafone, could have the biggest impact, merging two of the largest 4G players in India.
While those mergers and acquisitions may very well shrink the Indian mobile industry's now expansive competitive landscape, they will allow the remaining operators to compound their spectrum holdings. They can then plow those frequencies into more powerful LTE networks, boosting connection speeds for their customers. India's regulator also looks set to auction off new mobile broadband airwaves, which could bolster 4G services as well as provide a foundation for future 5G networks. And even as the number of operators in India shrinks, new 4G services are still emerging. BSNL Mobile is planning a large-scale LTE rollout, starting with 10 circles. India's 4G future is certainly complex, but, all said, that future looks bright.
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