A massive increase in the consumption of over-the-top (OTT) content, fuelled by growing number of rising smartphone users and falling data tariffs, led to an increase in 4G data traffic in 2019. As per Nokia’s recent edition of the MBiT Index, a report on mobile broadband performance in India, the overall data traffic increased by 47 per cent in 2019 due to continued 4G consumption, while 3G data traffic registered its highest-ever decline of 30 per cent during the year. 4G constituted 96 per cent of the total data traffic consumed across the country; the bulk of the increase in 4G payload came from Category A, B and C circles. Further, the overall average data usage per month registered a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 93 per cent during 2015-19 with average data usage per month surpassing 11 GB in December 2019. The 4G device base grew by 1.5x, driven by the launch of a variety of models by brands at aggressive pricing. VoLTE handsets grew to 432 million. Video consumption also surged due to an aggressive distribution strategy and innovations such as sachet pricing and mobile-only packs by OTT players. As per the report, the growing requirement for more reliable, secure and higher capacity connectivity is driving the demand for advanced solutions. Nokia’s MBiT Index has evaluated 3G, 4G and the overall data traffic growth trends at the pan-Indian and circle category levels, and data consumption per user on 3G and 4G networks for 2019. Some of the key report highlights are as follows.

Growth in data traffic

As per the report, the total data traffic in the country has grown more than three times over the past two years. Continued upgradation to 4G, low data prices, affordable smartphones and increased video viewership are some of the factors that have driven the data consumption. Post the introduction of 4G services in 2016, the total data traffic increased by 44 times (2015-19); this is one of the highest in the world. The majority of the data traffic in 2019 was driven by 4G as a result of the addition of new users as well as the movement of data traffic from 3G to 4G owing to network upgrade. Meanwhile, video viewership increased due to a growth in the number of OTT platforms, increased streaming of regional language content, and cheaper subscription plans. 4G constituted over 95 per cent of the total data traffic across all categories in 2019. The circles in categories A, B and C saw a growth rate of approximately 50 per cent due to operator focus on 4G in these circles. Meanwhile, broadband penetration increased as operators rolled out their 4G networks in circles such as Bihar, Haryana, Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir, and Madhya Pradesh.

The monthly data usage per user increased almost 14 times over the past four years. The average monthly data traffic per user increased by 16 per cent annually in 2019, driven by an increase in data subscribers and mobile video consumption. A continuous increase in data traffic has resulted in the average data usage per month to grow exponentially at a CAGR of 93 per cent over the past four years. The average 4G data usage per month was 11.7 GB. Availability of regional content at affordable prices continued to drive monthly data usage in India. Going forward, mobile data usage in India can increase further as broadband penetration approaches the level of similar developed geographies. Broadband penetration in India is at around 47 per cent, which is significantly lower compared to China at 95 per cent, and other European countries at 95-115 per cent. In spite of having a low average throughput, India has a high average data usage. Increase in mobile network speed will further propel data usage in the country.

Evolving device ecosystem

4G devices grew by 1.5 times in 2019. Most of the phones sold were in the mid-tier smartphone segment with almost 80 per cent of consumers opting for phones below Rs 150,001. Device manufacturers introduced a variety of models with many flagship-grade features and capabilities, in the mid-tier segment. In 2019, India surpassed the US in annual smartphone shipments for the first time with 158 million shipments. 2G phone shipments saw a steep decline of around 25 per cent in 2019, even though there are around 400 million 2G users. Around 67 per cent of the subscriber base in India uses 4G-capable devices. Metros reported the highest 4G device penetration at 78 per cent of the subscriber base. There were a total of 432 million VoLTE-capable devices in 2019, constituting 86 per cent of the total LTE capable device base.

Video consumption on the rise

OTT players have increased their user base substantially by adopting different distribution models such as partnering with operators, DTH players, original equipment manufacturers and other OTT players while also introducing innovations such as sachet pricing and mobile-only packs. Mobile phones have become the dominant medium of online video consumption in India with widespread freedom of access. The online video platforms are truly going mass in terms of the frequency and duration of consumption. The average time spent on OTT platforms stands at 70 minutes per day, while the average frequency of access stands at 12.5 times per week. Further, the average single session duration lasts 40 minutes. Factors influencing the growth of online video in India include cheapest mobile data in the world (Rs 7 per GB), the rise in smartphone users (374 million), the growth in rural internet penetration (27.6 per cent), an increase in the number of OTT platforms in India (which is more than 30), an increase in the average mobile data download speed (11.5 Mbps), and an increase in investment towards the creation of original content by OTT players.

Private LTE supporting Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is bringing together the different silos in a production system via a network, allowing real-time data sharing and facilitating machine-to-machine and human-to-machine interactions of unprecedented speed and scale. Advanced technologies such as private LTE will drive Industry 4.0.

A private LTE network leverages micro towers and small cells, similar to a WiFi access point, on site to replicate the larger public network. Private LTE can be based on licensed, unlicensed, or shared spectrum. It can help in supporting Industry 4.0 use cases such as

  • Remote monitoring: Enables predictive maintenance in machines to increase efficiency, improves process transparency, lowers maintenance costs and reduces downtime. It can be useful in manufacturing and mining.
  • Robotics: Robots can be extremely influential on the shop floor. They can optimise production efficiency, ensure quality and limit human work in hazardous environments, thereby improving overall profitability of the company.
  • Improving OEE: Analytics-driven insights allow focus on real-time availability of equipment, performance levels and quality of output. Companies can monitor process parameters, calibration, temperature, speed, and production time.
  • Material handling: AR in warehouses can support picking operations by suggesting the most efficient route and providing a digital checklist of work orders. AR can also help operators load goods in the best possible sequence in order to optimise the truck capacity
  • VR and smart security: Processing a huge volume of footage in real time allows manufacturers and warehouse operators to have worker safety alerts and actively monitor the shop floor. Also, VR simulations allow workers to participate in on-the-job training.

India is expected to follow global examples in adopting private LTE across industries such as manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and mining. There are about 7 million global macro base stations delivering connectivity today however, there are around 14 million global industrial sites that stand to be connected. Nokia has already deployed private LTE Networks for organisations globally. These include Konecrane, Nokia Oulu Factory, Sandvik, and Sempra Renewables. In India, Nokia’s Chennai network equipment manufacturing facility is successfully running Industry 4.0 applications on the private LTE network.

The way forward

Growing data traffic and an increasing demand for high bandwidth connectivity will enable a smart ecosystem to ignite new innovations and highly customised services. The migration of subscribers to 4G will continue to enhance broadband penetration in India. There remains scope for 4G penetration to increase further; however, exponential data growth will drive operators to consider other advanced connectivity solutions. The increase in connected devices and a growing requirement for massive machine-to-machine communication will result in new paradigms in connectivity management with advanced security norms. Industry interactions reveal that key stakeholders recognise the need to implement Industry 4.0 use cases to drive the demand for private LTE networks. Growing OTT consumption and the content shifting from SD to HD, and soon to 4k/8k videos, will make high speed and ultra-low latency a prerequisite. Deploying private LTE will enable digital transformation across industries and pave the way for 5G mobile technology.