4G operator Bharti Airtel was clearly ahead of market leader Reliance Jio and challenger Idea Cellular in on-the-ground 4G speed tests conducted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in ten cities in India this year.
According to the data from these tests, Bharti Airtel scored an average download speed of 9.46 Mbps, 44% faster than Reliance Jio’s score of 6.57 Mbps. Idea Cellular recorded an average download speed of 7.41 Mbps.
The cities in which the tests were carried out ranged from Bhiwani in Haryana to Kota in Rajasthan to Calicut in Kerala.
Compared to data reported by apps, these scores are more likely to approximate the actual conditions faced by users on the ground as these tests were carried out under neutral conditions.
Not surprisingly, the speeds detected in these drive tests vary from those reported by consumer apps.
For example, according to the MySpeed app by TRAI, the average download speed for Reliance Jio in India is 20.3 Mbps, while it is only 6.57 Mbps in these drive tests. For the record, MySpeed app shows Bharti’s average pan-India 4G speed at 8.9 Mbps and Idea at 8.2 Mbps.
Vodafone’s 4G network was also part of the drive test.
However, the operator did not have LTE services in four of the ten cities. As a result, its data could be read only in six cities.
Taking the average of these six cities, Vodafone scored an average download speed of 10.5 Mbps, which was higher than Airtel’s reading for ten cities.
JIO, IDEA UNDER PRESSURE
The numbers indicate the pressure felt by the 4G networks of Reliance Jio, which carries about 60% of India’s total wireless Internet traffic, and Idea Cellular.
The data also reveals that Bharti Airtel is able to withstand the traffic pressure better than Idea due to the considerably higher spectrum deployed by the Gurgaon-based company.
While Idea and Vodafone use chunks of 5 MHz spectrum, Airtel and Jio use both 5 MHz and 20 MHz blocks in most circles.
On the other hand, despite the lower quantity of spectrum in use, Vodafone seems to be able to maintain a higher quality of service for its 4G data users compared to other networks. This could be either because of higher number of towers deployed or because of lower number of 4G users on its network.
The scores showed high variations between cities, indicating varying levels of network congestion.
At 14.5 Mbps, the highest average download speed was recorded in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and the lowest average speed of 6.6 Mbps was recorded in Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh.
Within operators, the lowest speed was recorded by Idea in Bhiwani at 2.6 Mbps, followed by Idea in Vijaywada at 3.2 Mbps.
The highest speed in the test was recorded by Vodafone in Coimbatore at 20.7 Mbps, followed by Airtel in the same city with 18.9 Mbps.
The lowest score reported by Airtel was 3.2 Mbps in Kanpur, while the lowest score reported by Idea Cellular was 2.6 Mbps in Bhiwani. The lowest score for Jio was 3.3 Mbps (Bhiwani), while that for Vodafone was Kota in Rajasthan (6.1 Mbps).
The TRAI drive tests also measure network latency or delays, as measured by the time taken to reach Google’s servers. A lower reading indicates better network configuration and low levels of congestion.
Network latency and download speeds are related to each other, as high download speeds usually result in low delays. However, in some cases — where the communication network is designed poorly — high latency can be seen even when there is no scarcity of bandwidth (speed).
Going by the average of the ten cities, the highest latency was seen in Jio’s network at 117.3 milliseconds, followed by Idea at 107.2 milliseconds and 106 for Bharti Airtel.
The highest levels of latency were seen in Patna, where the latency level was 143 milliseconds averaged for Jio, Airtel and Idea taken together. Here, Jio’s network had latency at 171 ms, followed by Idea at 150 and Airtel at 108.
The lowest latency was seen in Kota and Coimbatore at about 90 ms. In Kota, Jio had latency at just 72 ms, while Airtel had 109 ms, while in Coimbatore, both Jio and Bharti had comparable reads.