In 2017, 4G became the norm in Indian telecommunications
Reliance Jio spearheaded 4G and VoLTE adaption
2018 could turn it into a level-playing field
2017 was a significant year for Indian telecom during which 4G became the new norm. Usage exploded riding primarily on Reliance Jio — the 15-month old network that is already the world’s fastest-growing telco — and the effects trickled down to other operators too. Nearly 4 million TB of 4G data has been consumed by Indians this year, according to a TRAI estimate. Consumers relished swathes of data sometimes “effectively free” and sometimes at incredibly low prices, and hordes of first-time smartphone buyers were inducted into the world of mobile data. The year came to be defined by the stiff price war between incumbent telcos and disruptor Jio.
However, 2018 could be different. This could be — and should be for the sake of the domestic telecom industry — the year when Reliance Jio finally raises its tariffs, predicts OpenSignal. In a blog outlining the telecom landscape for upcoming year, it states that Jio may not be the primary driver of 4G growth as it was this year. And that is because prices are now stabilizing. Almost all other network providers including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, and even the state-owned BSNL, have launched similarly priced plans to prevent the mass exodus of their subscribers to Jio.
Hence, 2018 could bring about a level-playing field. Moreover, 4G adoption would continue to increase and several users would be able to skip the 2G and 3G stages, and jump straight to 4G from their feature phones. “With operators rolling out low-cost data plans to grow their consumer bases, and manufacturers launching affordable 4G smartphones enabling a greater slice of the population to get connected, we expect 4G availability to maintain its rising trajectory across the country,” Andrea Toth of OpenSignal states.
2018 would also see several telcos combining their spectrum holdings as consolidation in the sector is slated to continue. This would also help boost 4G speeds which have suffered in the latter half of 2017 because of the demand-supply gap. “As 4G adoption rose, the networks experienced congestion, resulting in a decrease in average download speeds across the board. 4G users on the networks of Idea Cellular, Vodafone and Airtel all witnessed a drop in average 4G download speeds over the course of 2017,” OpenSignal notes.
In fact, India, which is the world’s second-largest telecom market, recorded the lowest spot among the 77 countries examined by OpenSignal, with average 4G download speeds of 6.1 Mbps, compared to the global average of 10 Mbps. Essentially, the existing networks are just not being able to keep up with the demand. But “2018 will see India gradually move away from being a developing 4G country; overcoming the hiccups necessary to become a full-grown 4G power,” reckons OpenSignal.