The year 2012 saw India becoming one of the first in the world to commercially deploy 4th generation mobile technology. The speed of this network was expected to be ten times faster than that of the 3G network. The latter was not as popular as the 2G network before it.
While the hype around 3G had telecom operators believing that it was the next big thing after mobile telephony, the result was quite disappointing. By 2015, it was established that 3G services were abysmal when it came to both data speeds and connectivity. With only about 30 percent of 3G-enabled cell towers in the country, telecom companies were hesitant to invest in improving the network. Instead, they directed their attention towards the burgeoning 4G technology, pumping funds into the development of 4G networks. However, this was no easy task.
Challenges of implementing 4G
India is a very price conscious market, and the price tag on devices is quite a sensitive issue. To back this fact is the growth of 2G following the drop in mobile prices below INR 2,000. The reason for slower adoption of 3G also remains the same—steep pricing.
One of the other challenges of implementing 4G in India has been the backward compatibility of devices. Bharti Airtel’s Joint Managing Director and CEO India, Gopal Vittal, drew attention to the infrastructure challenges of implementing LTE. He stated that more low-cost devices and spectrum were required to overcome these challenges. The current spectrum supplied is only 40 percent of the global average.
These hurdles are enhanced by the fact that 2G and 3G networks cannot be phased out easily. Operators are struggling to support interoperability, enable seamless roaming, and maintain two networks while facilitating smooth handovers across multiple Communications Service Providers (CSPs).
4G takes root in India
According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association, when India had 350 million Internet users, 60 percent of this figure used Internet on their phones. The growth of the 4G-enabled ecosystem gave way to an increase in the growth of 4G users in the market. The prices of 3G- and 4G-enabled devices have also seen a drop, which resulted in 2.7 times the growth in a year.
While telecom operators spent 2015 laying the foundations for 4G penetration in India, 2016 brings plans for consolidating their presence and positioning themselves in the 4G market. Although 4G has many circles left to penetrate(all telecom operators except Reliance Jio that has 4G services across all 22 circles), within the span of a year, it has contributed to 13 percent of the total data traffic all over India.
According to Nokia’s Mobile Broadband Index study, 4G was revealed to be the major source of data traffic in the year 2016. 60 percent of the incremental data payload was from 2015.The study also revealed that the 4G monthly data usage per subscriber was over 1400 MB in comparison to about 850 MB for 3G. This expedited data usage over the 4G network was driven by an increase in download speeds and larger, high-resolution screens of 4G devices that sped up data consumption. Nokia’s annual study also noted a 13 percent drop in 2G volumes, even though it remains at the forefront when it comes to voice telephony.
Five times quicker than 3G, 4G services can handle bandwidth-heavy tasks such as video conferencing and streaming of HD mobile TV. However, Nokia’s study discovered that data consumption was driven mainly by messaging and social media applications. These platforms kept users engaged for the maximum time. 90 percent of users accessed these applications via their mobile devices.
No market in the world has mobile data dominating the Internet as it does in India. The extent of this is evident in the size of companies like Zomato or Flipkart that would be a lot smaller without India’s mobile Internet boom.
With 4G becoming the dominant option, telecoms haven’t had time to capitalize on the 3G spectrum and network. Many developing countries, including Indonesia and Thailand, keep 3G as their primary focus even after launching 4G. India, on the other hand, is expected to be among the first few countries to shift to a 4G + 2G network and discard 3G. The key catalyst of this is, without a doubt, Reliance Jio’s greenfield LTE only network. With the 4G ecosystem gradually widening and becoming more affordable, the stage is being set for the further development of 4G in India. This technology is expected to expand to such an extent that services providers will need to improve their capacity.
The months ahead see an even greater growth in the 4G mobile network arena with a massive user base on the 4G network. With the advent of 4G, the 3G spectrum is ready to be freed up as users jump to the new technology. This will also result in 2G becoming a lot cheaper than before.
4G technology is set to drive broadband uptake in India with usage picking up momentum beyond the metros. Providers are beginning to feel the heat of competition, providing lucrative 4g data plans to woo their customers. The competition is aggressive with the end user enjoying the fruits.
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