When Mukesh Ambani announced that he wanted 100 mln (10 cr) subscribers on his new Reliance Jio network, most people in the industry saw it as an aspirational number.
Jio would be lucky to have 50 mln, they said. If the company were to cross the 50 mln mark within the first year, it would be a bigger success than they expected.
Yet, within just three months of launch, Jio is about to prove industry pundits wrong by signing on millions of subscribers every week.
However, in doing so, the company may come up against unexpected challenges — including increasing issues around data speed.
With a generous offer of 4 GB of free 4G data per day and new subscriber activations now happening within 24 hours, the company’s networks are being stretched to their breaking point.
ROBUST WIRELESS LINK
Curiously enough, it’s not the usual suspect — the wireless network — that seems to be feeling the greatest amount of pressure.
According to tests we carried out, the last-mile 4G network of the company remains remarkably robust.
We tested network bandwidth using both ‘Netvelocity’, which measures the data speed between the customer and the operator’s server in the city, as well as the third-party application Ookla Speedtest.
Both cases showed that the download speeds on Jio’s network continues to remain robust at 15-25 Mbps within the city (Our tests were carried out in Kochi).
Yet, this kind of blazing 4G speed is not on display when one tries to install an application from Google Play, browse international websites or download software Windows software updates.
Without doubt, these activities definitely feel slower in the last few days on Jio’s network.
So what’s going on?
According to our tests, the subscribers seem to be facing bandwidth issues largely when they try to access or download data from outside the country.
We tested the theory out, and could indeed see a remarkable difference between Speedtest results within India and those outside.
Even when the local link (our device to Jio’s server within Kochi) was having a bandwidth of 20-22 Mbps, speeds to servers outside India ranged between 0.9 Mbps to 1.5 Mbps.
Whether one tried Europe, the US or Asian countries like Japan and Thailand, the results were remarkably similar (see attached pics). This makes sense as all the data destined for outside the country must go through a very very small number of international gateways.
There were also some regional speed differences within India.
When tested from Kochi, cities in South India tended to give decent bandwidths (10-12 Mbps), while Mumbai gave around 5-6 Mbps and the Delhi region was the poorest.
So, does this mean that the company underestimated the data that users would consume? Did it miscalculate the amount of fiber connectivity it would need to serve its target customer base?
We would say it did not: Mainly because what we are seeing today is not a realistic scenario.
The company already has an estimated 20-30 mln data users on its network and is adding between 0.5 to 1 mln per day. This is not far behind an established operator like Idea, which has around 49 mln subscribers.
However, the key difference is in usage.
Each of these Jio subscribers are using around 1 GB of data per day; perhaps more on a Sunday like today.
In comparison, an average Idea Cellular data subscriber uses 22 MB per day. In other words, an average Jio customer is using between 50 to 100 times more data than an Idea customer.
Given that the price difference between Jio and Idea is only around 35% or so, this kind of huge disparity in consumption cannot be maintained once the new network starts charging for its services.
In other words, there’s very little chance that the same person who was using only 20 MB per day on Idea’s network would use 1,000 or 2,000 MB per day when he shifts to the new network.
According to our estimate, per-day consumption would be in the 100 MB range from Jan 1 onwards, when the company will start charging its users.
However, by then, the total number of users on RJio’s network will also double to 50 mln.
Yet — even after factoring in this increase in users — the total quantum of data flowing across the network would see a drastic fall – from 30 mln GB per day at present to about 0.5 mln GB (100 MB * 50 mln users) per day.
This kind of fall would immediately take care of any speed issues users may be experiencing now.
NOT JUST INTERNET
The second factor to keep in mind is that RJio is not aiming to be just an Internet provider.
The company expects that a substantial chunk of the traffic on its network would be to its own content servers. It expects that a large chunk of data would be consumed for watching TV, listening to music and reading news on Jio’s own apps.
This data doesn’t leave the country, and the company does not need to invest in international connectivity to provide these. It is in this context that the company’s massive last-mile connectivity makes sense.
SOLUTIONS FOR USERS
There are some tricks and tips that many have suggested to solve the issue of slowing Internet, but they are primarily aimed at easing any wireless congestion by switching bands.
Jio works on three bands 41 (2300), 3 (1800) and 5 (850).
Under normal circumstances, the highest bandwidth is achieved on the 2300 MHz band and the lowest speed is found on the 850 MHz band.
Those using MediaTek devices can try switching off each of these bands to see which one gives the best results. This can be done using MTK Engineering Mode app.
No such app exists for other chipsets, but there are some apps that help you find shortcodes for engineering modes of other devices. However, these shortcodes are of limited use as far as turning off bands is concerned.
Finally, some have suggested going for a virtual private network service, which costs about $5 (Rs 335) per month.
However, given that the first thing that most VPNs do is to take your data outside the country using international gateways, this solution is not likely to help much. It may, however, help in resolving any possible routing and DNS delays.
Some have also suggested changing the default DNS to Google’s servers (18.104.22.168), but these measures are likely to have limited benefits too.
For now, it looks like some amount of speed issues are going to be around until the free period ends on Dec 31.