Ookla has released the findings of a consumer survey, recently commissioned among smartphone users, aged 18 and above, across urban and rural areas of India to understand the current mobile behaviour of Indian consumers.

According to the findings, 89 per cent of respondents have shown interest in upgrading to 5G connectivity. Among these, 48 per cent of respondents plan to upgrade to 5G as soon as it is available in their area, even if it calls for switching service providers. 20 per cent of the respondents would wait for their service providers to upgrade to the 5G network. 14 per cent of respondents intend to avail the services after upgrading to a 5G enabled handset, and 7 per cent would wait for their current contract period to end. Those that are not sure about the new technology will likely wait to see how attractive it is once others start using it. Only 2 per cent stated that they don’t intend to upgrade to 5G.

Commenting on the findings, Sylwia Kechiche, principal analyst, enterprise, Ookla, said, “While mobile users in India are among the most data-intensive users in the world, India’s 4G/long-term evolution (LTE) networks have become a bottleneck for demand. Only 1.4 per cent of respondents stated that they are satisfied with the existing network performance and are not planning to upgrade to 5G. The promise of 5G is that it will unlock a world of possibilities beyond just a faster network connection. Now that operators have acquired 5G spectrum, they start their race to become the first operators to go to market with 5G, with some already hinting that 5G deployments will begin in the next few months.”

Ookla’s key survey findings unfolds:

  • Consumers have an appetite for video streaming and gaming. The survey reveals that if mobile internet connections were better, 70 per cent of respondents would increase their use of video streaming, while 68 per cent stated they would boost their mobile gaming. Operators acquired a total of 44,960 MHz of spectrum in the 26 GHz spectrum band (mmWave), which due to its high throughput, is particularly useful for streaming and gaming. It will also lend additional capacity in dense areas such as stadiums. Better connectivity will have a wider-reaching effect on a consumer’s ability to communicate more often. That is especially true for social media and using phones for work, which are currently the top two use cases among consumers in India. Meanwhile, other consumer behaviours such as online shopping, mobile money, and watching esports are not impacted as much by high network speeds. Indeed, just over half of the respondents said they would use these services for the same amount of time despite network upgrades.
  • Consumers want faster speeds. 42 per cent of respondents believe that faster speeds would most improve the service currently being provided to them. The good news is that the operators’ spectrum holdings in the C-band will help them do just that. Both Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio splurged on the C-band spectrum at auction, acquiring spectrum in all of the 22 telecom circles, while Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi) acquired spectrum only in its priority circles. Having access to contiguous spectrum helps to achieve faster, lower latency and greener 5G services. In addition to faster speeds, 24 per cent of respondents desire a more reliable connection, while 21 per cent want better indoor coverage. However, only one in 10 respondents pointed to better outdoor coverage as a factor that would be most beneficial.
  • Delay to India’s 5G auction did come with some benefits. Namely, the decrease of the cost of 5G hardware as the technology and vendor ecosystem continues to mature. Following the spectrum auction, Airtel has already contracted Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung to deploy 5G services in August 2022. Indian operators’ move to embrace open radio access network (RAN) will drive network costs even lower. Another key factor is the 5G device ecosystem, with 5G smartphone prices falling since the technology launched. Ookla is already seeing a growing number of tests taken with Speedtest that are running on 5G-capable devices in the market. According to the consumer survey, almost half of respondents have a 5G ready handset. This offers operators an existing customer base that they can target from day one.
  • Indian telcos are set for a disruptive year ahead once 5G launches. Consumers are keen to upgrade, with 89 per cent of respondents intending to upgrade to 5G and only 2 per cent stating that they don’t intend to upgrade to 5G at all. It is worth noting that almost half of the respondents (48 per cent) plan to upgrade to 5G as soon as it is available in their area and would consider switching providers if necessary. 20 per cent will do so as soon as their current provider offers 5G, 14 per cent when they have a 5G-capable phone, and 7 per cent plan to wait for their current contract to end. Those that are not ure about the new technology will likely wait to see how attractive it is once other people start using it. Indian operators are already voicing their plans regarding network rollout, with Jio targeting a pan-Indian rollout coinciding with the “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” Independence Day while Airtel plans to start 5G services in key cities across the country.
  • Cost, lack of education, and 5G phones are the main hurdles to 5G adoption. As with any new technology, there will be a number of challenges that must be addressed, namely affordability, coverage, and consumer education. The survey results reveal that the key reason for not upgrading to 5G is the perceived cost of the 5G tariff. Just over a quarter of those who do not plan to upgrade said that they think the 5G tariff cost would be too expensive, followed by 24 per cent stating lack of 5G knowledge as an issue, and 23 per cent not having a 5G capable phone. Only 1.4 per cent of the overall respondents are satisfied with the existing network performance and would not upgrade to 5G.