Indians opt for mobile data over broadband in early days of lockdown: Study

An increase in video conferencing is also having an impact on internet speed | Photo: PTI
Ookla, a platform that tests internet speed, said initial trends show India consumed a lot more mobile data compared to broadband in the early days of work-from-home and the lockdown, compared to the US and other developed countries.

“What we're seeing (in India) is a bit different than in the US. There, people are not using mobile phones as much, so we didn't really see much of a change in mobile usage except a little less of it. Fixed broadband is being used for far more things. In India, what we've seen so far is that mobile has slowed down. There has been only a little bit of effect so far on broadband. This may change this week, with a true national lockdown,” said Doug Suttles, CEO of Ookla.

India went into a 21-day lockdown beginning Tuesday as concerns over spread of coronavirus increase.  While schools and educational institutions shut down over the past few weeks, more and more private businesses allowed their employees to work from home. The higher number of people staying at home means there will be more stress on internet networks, as people carry out their business, studies, consume more video on streaming services and apps like TikTok. "ACT (Fibernet) and Jio are very close in performance at the top," said Suttles.

In a bid to speed up networks, the digital industry in India has said it would temporarily stream high definition and and ultra-HD content in standard definition, at bitrates no higher than 480p, on cellular networks. This is similar to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and others offering lower resolution videos to ensure better speeds for users.

Suttles isn't sure how effective these measures are. "As we know, most of traffic is for videos, either for Netflix or YouTube. The belief is that lowering resolutions saves about 25 per cent of bandwidth. It can't hurt, but in the countries we've looked at, there has been no improvement. For example, in Italy there is still decrease in performance," he said.

An increase in video conferencing is also having an impact on internet speed.

What is a good way to ensure better speeds as people continue to work from home? "For (internet service) providers its a capacity issue, so I don't know if there's anything that they can do; maybe prioritising traffic, lower resolution (can help). For consumers, if you have more than one internet connection, if you have data on your mobile connection and a fixed line connection, maybe use both. Connect your laptop to your phone while the rest of the house is using the broadband connection," Suttles said.

For the week ended March 23, Ookla's data shows mean download speed over fixed broadband connections increased in China (including in Hubei province) and Japan compared to the week of March 16 and the week of March 9. Mean download speed over fixed broadband decreased in Malaysia during the same period. Mobile download speed remained relatively flat in Japan, fell slightly in India and declined in Malaysia during the same period.

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