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India’s 3G networks creak under freebie overload; 4G also slows

MySpeed, the speedtesting platform operated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, has revealed a sharp dip in wireless data speeds across operators in March compared to the previous month.

The declines were visible in both 4G as well as 3G services, but were more pronounced in 3G networks, which typically have one-tenth the data carrying capacity of 4G networks in India.

The decline in speeds has to do with free or ‘almost free’ offers brought out by various players to spur data consumption in Jan-Mar period.

While Jio has always been free since it started trial services about nine months ago, competitors like Idea Cellular and Vodafone also announced dirt cheap plans this year to remain in competition — even though they do not have the same 4G footprint or spectrum capacity that Jio and Airtel are operating with.

AIRTEL LEADS IN 3G?

source:TRAI

Not surprisingly, these two operators — who do not have 4G services in many areas to share the increased load — saw the biggest impact on their 3G speeds in March.

The worst hit was Idea Cellular, whose average speeds fell by 26.4% in the month to 3.08 Mbps from 4.19 Mbps in February. Compared to January, Idea 3G speeds are down 33%.

Idea, like Vodafone, was offering 3G and 4G data at about Rs 25 per GB in March — down from Rs 250 per GB before Jio’s entry — under special promotions.

Vodafone too was badly hit. 3G speeds on the network fell 21% in March to 3.71 Mbps.

This allowed Airtel to emerge as the fastest 3G operator with an average of 3.72 Mbps even though it average 3G speed was down by 11.1%.

The operator was able to cushion the impact to its 3G network thanks to its pan-India 4G network, which absorbed part of the increased load.

JIO FASTEST IN 4G?

TRAI’s numbers lend some support to the claims by the newcomer in Indian telecom that it is the king of fast wireless broadband in India.

However, when it comes to these highly contested 4G numbers, it should be kept in mind that the data secured from such tests are not to be taken as the final word.

It is, for example, possible any operator to buy a rival’s connection, go to a congested or low-signal area, open the TRAI app and conduct thousands of tests from that location. This will flood the records for the rival operator with low readings and depress its average score.

Similarly, you can boost your readings by sending thousands of samples from your own network in a very low-congestion area.

This is especially a risk due to the relatively low number of samples. For example, there were only over 30,000 tests on Airtel and Idea 4G services during the month.

Jio, however, had a higher number at 5 lakh, which could also indicate how popular the new operator has become in a short while.

With that disclaimer, it is nevertheless possible to see some numbers on the average bandwidth enjoyed by 4G subscribers in India.

TRAI MySpeed results for March 2017, 4G only

The highest on average was reported by Jio subscribers, who enjoyed 16.5 Mbps of download bandwidth during March, followed closely by Idea users with 12.1 Mbps, Airtel with 10.44 and Vodafone with 7.93.

At the bottom was Anil Ambani group’s Reliance Communications with a reading of 2.95 Mbps for its 4G service. The poor speeds reported on RCom should be of concern to Jio as both RCom and RJio work on the same network.

As noted earlier, all four 4G operators saw a decline in their average speed readings in March, but these were in the single-digit percentages and nowhere as drastic as in case of 3G.

The biggest drop – 7.2% – was seen in Bharti Airtel’s speeds, followed by Reliance Jio, which saw a decline of 5.4%.

Vodafone saw a 4.8% fall, while Idea Cellular recorded the least amount of variation, with average speeds falling by just 1%.

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