Indian consumers are spending more time on 4G mobile networks than their global counterparts. During the lockdown, the average time spent on 4G increased by one hour globally. However, in India, the average time spent on 4G went up by 2.2 hours per day. This has resulted in around 20 to 50 percent increase in mobile usage for a quarter of Indian consumers during the period. After 51 days of lockdown, the numbers reported by Ericsson ConsumerLab is a stark reminder of how India became a mobile-first nation in the first place. While the spike in data consumption and time spent is along expected lines, the real highlight seems to be the networks, which have stayed resilient despite all the odds.
COVID 19 lockdown in India: Data consumption and Impact
“India is an exceptional market in terms of network consumption,” Jasmeet Singh Sethi, Head of ConsumerLab at Ericsson, told BGR India. He says 8 in 10 consumers in the country say their daily life is impacted by the lockdown. The number is based on conversation with around 1,000 consumers, which translates to behavior of nearly 250 million consumers. While the sample size may look small, the impact of the message paints a true picture. Globally, 7 in 10 consumers say that their daily life has been impacted by COVID-19. This is based on the survey of around 700 million consumers around the world, who see immediate impact on their life and business because of lockdown.
“Welcome to the new normal,” said Börje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, during his opening remark of a virtual Unboxed Office event on Monday. As more people start working from home or settling into this normal, the impact on network and data consumption is also seeing a new normal. India, where the penetration of mobile networks is significant in comparison to fixed broadband services, is seeing a different pattern altogether. The average time spent on 4G has more than doubled compared to other established markets. As on January 31, 2020, TRAI estimates India had over 1.1 billion wireless subscribers while the wireline subscriber base stood at 20.58 million. Also Read – India has the cheapest mobile data in world: Study
Jasmeet told me that four in ten consumers in India said they primarily rely on their 4G network. I personally have noticed that my mobile 4G network outperformed broadband at home during these times. However, fixed broadband services cannot be written off. Ericsson says the fixed broadband service, despite its small user base, saw 60 percent increase in data consumption. Ahead of Mi Box 4K launch in India last week, Xiaomi executives said 75 percent of the consumers with 32-inch or 43-inch TV used mobile data hotspots to access streaming data content. India is also one of the cheapest markets for mobile data right now. The impact is not only on life but also on education.
Ericsson says 3 in 4 parents said that devices have helped them stay connected and educate their kids during the lockdown. However, the country is still relying on traditional modes of education, making digital transformation difficult. Of the 8 consumers who say their daily life is impacted during the lockdown, 60 percent are referring to education or the lack thereof. As India prepares for possible extension of lockdown this Sunday, these information send a clear message that the digital transformation has taken roots only in select pockets. Jasmeet said the lack of nationwide adoption of programs like Google Classroom might result in a digital divide in the country.
Digital Divide and Digital Literacy Gap
Digital Divide has been one of the biggest bottlenecks in India’s path towards becoming a developed nation. The launch of Reliance Jio and its 4G only network was seen as a way to turn every city and village into a digitally connected one. However, that remains a dream and there is a clear divide between metro cities and rural locations. The digital divide could have been supplemented with roll out of nationwide WiFi hotspots and deployment of 5G services. However, the country is yet to see these schemes turn into material action. During a Skype call, Jasmeet explained that networks need to be redefined in order to reduce this digital divide across the nation.
While digital divide is an issue, the digital literacy gap is shrinking at a time when lockdown is likely to be extended for the fourth time. Ericsson says it saw the pandemic shrink digital literacy gap, particularly in video calling applications. Jasmeet explained how his father, who lives alone in New Delhi, has now started using video calling applications. Ekholm’s words ring true even true. This is going to be the new normal. Jasmeet adds that this experience will “manifest even in the future”. Ericsson ConsumerLab sees older people practising social distance post pandemic and using video calling applications to continue social interactions.
Ericsson claims 66 percent consumers in India say that the network is performing the same or better than it did before the lockdown. The mobile first nation is seeing its networks tested like never before but they seem to be staying resilient. While we have seen Vodafone, Reliance Jio or Airtel face connectivity issues before lockdown, the situation has been much better during the lockdown. There has not been any significant network issue reported during the 50 days of lockdown. Networks have held steady even as more devices are connected and more data is consumed. While data consumption is up across the board, network resilience has emerged as a surprise winner among consumers.
Ericsson says perception towards ICT remains positive and consumers are aware of the strain on the network. Ekholm said that the number of “strong and reliable networks is higher than before”. The Swedish networking and telecommunications company cites engineers who keep networks running as the primary reason behind this resilience. Börje Ekholm also added that there are plans in place to increase resilience further. “More than ever connectivity is the key,” Ekholm said during a live conference. While mobile networks are at the forefront of keeping Indians connected during this lockdown, the government needs to look for ways to limit the strain on them.