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Airtel 5G Plus services is contributing towards the big leap in internet mobile speeds for India

Bhubaneswar: Description automatically generated with medium confidence Ookla, the global leader in network intelligence and connectivity insights today released its insights on the India’s performance post launch of 5G services. According to the insights, the median download speeds across India increased by 115% (from a 13.87 Mbps median download speed in September 2022 to 29.85 Mbps in January 2023). As a result, India’s position on the Speedtest Global Index improved by 49 places from 118th in September 2022 to 69th in January 2023. This puts India ahead of some of the G20 countries, such as Mexico, Russia, and Argentina, and its neighbors: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. India is also catching up with the likes of Turkey (a 30.98 Mbps median download speed/65th place on the Speedtest Global Index), South Africa (34.71 Mbps/58th place), and Brazil (35.85 Mbps/57th place).

When 5G was first launched in October 2022, there was a wide disparity in the early 5G network performance users were experiencing on 5G-capable devices; median 5G download speeds oscillated between 512.57 Mbps (Gujarat) and 19.23 Mbps (Uttar Pradesh West) as the 5G networks build out started. In fact, in nine telecom circles: Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata, North East, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Punjab, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh West, the median 5G download speed was below 100 Mbps because networks were very much at the testing stage. Four months on, in January 2023, 5G median download speeds had greatly increased across all of the telecom circles — exceeding 200 Mbps everywhere except Jammu and Kashmir.

Speedtest Intelligence data also shows that 5G Availability – the proportion of users with 5G-capable devices that use 5G network – had increased 55 times between September 2022, when 5G Availability stood at 0.1%, and January 2023, when it reached 5.5%. Operators already have an existing base of consumers owning 5G-capable devices. During the latest quarterly call, Airtel shared that about 11% of their smartphones are 5G ready. Airtel users with 5G smartphones can access Airtel 5G Plus services at no additional cost using their existing 4G SIM cards. Airtel is busy carrying out a 5G network rollout, planning to go live in about 300 cities by March 2023 and to cover all urban areas by March 2024.

During the early days of 5G – in October 2022 – we could see 5G device testing in just over a dozen of cities. Only three cities had a 5G Availability exceeding 2% – namely, the capital, New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Siliguri. Fast forward to January 2023, and 5G Availability exceeded 2% across 39 cities where both Jio and Airtel had rolled out their networks. 5G Availability across three cities was above 13%, namely in Cuttack, Chennai, and Noida.

Moreover, 5G investments made by the operator has also propelled an increase in 4G LTE speeds thanks to the modernization of the underlying infrastructure. For instance, median 5G download speed is 25 times that of 4G LTE (338.12 Mbps vs. 13.30 Mbps), and median 5G upload speed is 4.5 times 4G LTE (19.65 Mbps vs 3.55 Mbps). Ookla’s insight report also witnesses the improvements in LTE speeds for Airtel in multiple cities as it is offloading 4G traffic onto their 5G network, therefore reducing 4G network congestion. Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO of Bharti Airtel Limited, mentioned during the latest quarterly results call that “between 25% to 35% of traffic is already getting offloaded on 5G from 4G.” Airtel deployed 5G in a Non-Standalone mode (5G NSA) – the operator stated that commercial trials using NSA give a 30% higher coverage than SA. Airtel also to AI to understand where most of its traffic is located and plans its network roll-out strategy accordingly.

The report also infers the churn pattern of Speed test users from January to December 2022, which shows that Vi India has been losing users throughout 2022 and following the 5G launch, the disconnections increased significantly. Most of Vi’s customers have moved away to Jio and Airtel.

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