India primed for 5G launch, roll out will improve its rankings on mobile speeds: Ookla CEO

TNN Bureau. Updated: 6/20/2022 4:24:12 PM Science and Technology

The Indian market is primed for the launch of 5G—the next generation of mobile broadband—and its rollout will only help improve India’s overall mobile speed rankings, said Doug Suttles, CEO and co-founder of Ookla, best known for its Speedtest rankings. Suttles told over an email interaction that the 5G era should be one of stability for Indian mobile operators and the regulator as well.

Currently, India is ranked 115th in Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index for mobile broadband. The average mobile downloaded speeds are 14.28 Mbps for May 2022, which is slightly better than 14.19 Mbps in April 2022.

“With three large-scale operators, we’re unlikely to return to the price wars that occurred during the early 4G tech cycle, which is important in ensuring adequate investment in networks,” noted Suttles.

According to the latest statement by Union telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, 5G networks will become operational in 20-25 cities and towns by the end of the year. Last week that the government has invited bid applications for spectrum auctions starting July 26 after the Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal to auction over 72,000 megahertz (MHz), or 72 GHz, of airwaves with a validity period of 20 years.

But, Ookla’s CEO also cautioned that India is still “playing catch-up with already established 5G markets, it’s not starting from scratch”. He pointed out that thanks to the easy affordability of mobile data, “Indian consumers are some of the heaviest data users globally,” consuming on average 17GB per user in 2021 alone, according to Nokia’s latest India Mobile Broadband Index.

“Our Speedtest Video data shows that for the median user, Indian mobile networks supported an adapted average bitrate of 3.59 Mbps in Q1 2022. This is some way short of the bandwidth required to support full HD content. The Indian video streaming market is clearly calling out for the increased bandwidth and lower latency that 5G will bring,” said Suttles.

Of course, Ookla is already seeing a large proportion of Indian consumers running Speedtest using 5G-capable devices, which is not surprising, given that most brands in the market are introducing 5G-ready options. Research firms such as Counterpoint Research estimate that by the end of 2022, 5G smartphones will account for almost 40 per cent of all smartphones shipped in India, and according to Ookla, this will be “a strong base that operators can target from day one of 5G launch.”

But Suttles also stressed that 5G is more of an enterprise play. “Indian operators have been working to formulate their strategy around 5G enterprise use cases and bring in an ecosystem of partners to deliver on that. For instance, Airtel has also started to roll out 5G-ready network equipment, and Jio is testing its own 5G Open RAN solutions in several cities,” he added.

According to Ookla’s co-founder, another potential area for internet connectivity in India is satellite internet. It should be noted that companies such as Starlink and OneWeb (Airtel is a majority investor in this) are working on satellite internet.

He points out that in the future, “satellite internet services will serve as a competitive play in urban areas, particularly where fiber hasn’t been deployed, offering competitive speeds (as we’ve seen from our recent analysis).” But he admitted that sizeable costs could play a dampener in making satellite internet more widespread, especially in the price-sensitive Indian market, where the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) stood at around Rs 128 in the first quarter.

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