For almost two decades, Ookla has been working in the fields of both fixed and mobile network testing and analysis. Alongside its Speedtest and Downdetector platforms, the company’s growing suite of end-to-end enterprise solutions is finding many takers across the industry. In an interview with tele.net, Doug Suttles, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder, Ookla, talks about internet speed and data usage trends in India, Ookla’s services and strategies in the Indian market, and the future trends that will shape the telecom domain…
What kind of services does Ookla offer to Indian consumers, government and telecom companies? What are Ookla’s key business strategies for the Indian market?
Ookla’s Speedtest app not only allows consumers to understand their internet performance using metrics such as download and upload speeds, latency and coverage, but also measures the quality of video their connection supports. Downdetector, another Ookla service, offers real-time status and outage information for all kinds of internet services that our users consider vital to their everyday lives and work.
Ookla provides operators with the tools to analyse, optimise and publicise their networks. Drawn from billions of measurements from consumer devices, Speedtest Intelligence provides comprehensive insights on virtually every fixed and mobile network worldwide. With information on network performance, coverage, consumer sentiment, video experience and competitive benchmarking, operators can compare network metrics by historical period, chipset, device and other key variables. Ookla’s suite of solutions, from Speedtest Intelligence and Downdetector, all the way through Cell Analytics, can also help the wider ecosystem – telecom vendors, regulators and government agencies – better understand network performance and assure best-in-class experience.
What are the internet speed trends and data usage patterns in India? What, according to you, are the possible reasons for regional variances in data usage patterns?
The data for Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index comes from hundreds of millions of tests taken by real people using Speedtest every month to test their internet performance. Looking at countrywide mobile speeds, India climbed three spots in rank globally for median mobile speeds, from 118th in April to 115th in May 2022. In a country as large as India, nationwide percentiles factor in many regional differences. Looking at Speedtest Intelligence data for May, we observed mobile speeds ranging from a median download speed of 17.76 Mbps in Jammu & Kashmir, 15.29 Mbps in Delhi, 13.23 Mbps in Kerala, and 12.05 Mbps in Goa to 5.08 Mbps in Sikkim. The main reason behind such variation is mostly the urban-rural population distribution, with mobile network coverage and capacity generally being lower in more rural locations.
The satcom industry is at a nascent stage in India. What are your views on the country’s vision of becoming a major satcom hub by 2030? What are the necessary government interventions and possible impediments?
Satellite broadband performance has improved significantly since the entrance of low earth orbit constellations, such as Starlink. We found that Starlink provides speeds comparable to, or even faster, than fixed broadband. Starlink in Mexico had the fastest satellite internet in North America during the first quarter of 2022 with a median download speed of 105.91 Mbps, compared to the fixed broadband download speed of 40.07 Mbps. These are life-changing services for consumers in rural areas, who might not otherwise have access to high speed internet.
For many years, satellite transmission has connected a range of enterprise verticals in India, such as banking, logistics and transport. The Indian government, as part of the National Broadband Mission, highlights satellite as part of the technology mix required to extend broadband connectivity across India. However, one of the key challenges preventing mass adoption of satellite is cost. Starlink was accepting pre-orders for the beta version of the service for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (around Rs 7,425). There were estimates of a total cost of Rs 158,000 in the first year for Starlink terminals in India, including $499 (Rs 37,400) towards user equipment, a monthly $99 service fee (approximately Rs 7,425) spread over a year, and local taxes/ levies at 30 per cent. Beyond cost, other barriers include infrastructure deployment, digital literacy and affordable devices.
The government is working on an enabling licensing framework too, with steps taken recently to address the allocation of spectrum for satellite players. The 28 GHz band (spectrum in the 27.5-29.5 GHz band) is not part of the frequencies to be auctioned for 5G in the July 2022 5G spectrum auction. This could be seen as a catalyst for the country’s vision to become a satellite hub.
What has been Ookla’s contribution in 5G spectrum analysis and recommendations?
As we measure network performance around the world, we can see the impact of new technology and the allocation of new spectrum resources as they are deployed. There are two key considerations for understanding 5G spectrum – performance and geographical coverage. For example, mmWave spectrum is capable of delivering superfast speeds (in gigabits), but is limited in terms of range. Low-band (sub-1GHz) spectrum is able to travel farther, cover a greater geographical region and provide deeper penetration within buildings. But it lacks the capacity to deliver true 5G speeds. The so-called “sweet spot” for 5G is mid-band spectrum (1-6 GHz spectrum, and in particular C-band), which offers the best of both worlds in terms of coverage and capacity.
Operators’ 5G performance will depend heavily on their spectrum holdings. We have commented on how the difference in spectrum ownership has impacted operators’ 5G performance in Thailand. Elsewhere, we have witnessed the impact of C-band spectrum coming online in the US for 5G use, while in India we observed the impact Jio experienced after acquiring additional spectrum to support 4G in 2021. In the latter case, in addition to a bump in performance, the operator saw a corresponding rise in its net promoter score.
What will be the key trends shaping the future of telecom sector in India?
Ookla’s mission is to make the internet better, faster and more accessible for everyone. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, being “left behind” has wide-reaching implications. Therefore, addressing the digital divide, democratising access to the internet and driving digital transformation across industries would be key driving forces. In the short term, the Indian telecom sector will focus on 5G roll-out and monetisation. 5G networks will become platforms for innovation, bringing together cloud and edge technologies, and enabling varying degrees of 5G network ownership. Even 6G is on the cards by the end of the decade. Beyond that, some of the key trends we are observing in India are related to internet of things, artificial intelligence and private networks. Reducing the environmental impact of 5G would be top of the agenda as well, in order to deliver on India’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2070.