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Mobile Subscribers Yearwise comparision

Data Deluge: New business avenues for infrastructure providers

June 23, 2017
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Mobile broadband consumption in India has been increasing at a significant pace over the past few years owing to the continued expansion of 3G services, the aggressive roll-out of 4G services, limited fixed broadband penetration and falling data prices. The total data payload increased by 29 per cent, from 128 petabytes (PB) in 2015 to 165 PB in 2016, excluding the data traffic of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited.

Further, 3G and 4G services together contributed around 76 per cent to the total data traffic in December 2016, up from 64 per cent in December 2015. Of this, 4G contributed around 13 per cent of the total data volume. Notably, 2G data volumes dipped for the first time in 2016, as 2G subscribers continued to migrate to 3G and 4G. Meanwhile, 3G data traffic grew by 25 per cent.

Even with limited 4G network coverage and a small subscriber base, data consumption on 4G networks reached 22 PB in December 2016. Moreover, around 60 per cent of the incremental payload during 2016 was on account of 4G services. The average data usage for 4G services was 1,407 MB in December 2016. Meanwhile, the average data usage per month for 3G services increased from 753 MB in 2015 to 849 MB in 2016. This can be attributed to better networks, improved device capabilities and the availability of a relevant content ecosystem.

As of end-December 2016, the country had 130 million 3G subscribers and 17 million 4G subscribers. Going forward, the 3G/4G data subscriber base is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate of 40.7 per cent, whereas revenues from the services are expected to grow at 30 per cent.

As far as the device ecosystem is concerned, the penetration of 3G devices increased from 32 per cent in 2015 to 38 per cent in 2016. Meanwhile, 4G device penetration reached 12 per cent, driven by the increased availability of affordable 4G-enabled devices. The entry-level price of 4G handsets declined to Rs 3,000 in 2016.

In 2016, video and social networking together accounted for 65-75 per cent of the total data traffic. A 4G user consumed 30-40 per cent more data than a 3G user with similar consumption habits due to faster download speeds, auto optimisation of content to a higher resolution and access to better handsets.

Changing industry landscape and operator challenges

The telecom industry is undergoing a paradigm shift with increased merger and acquisition (M&A) activity both in the operator space as well as in the infrastructure space. A major proportion of operators’ capex is being used to ramp up backhaul networks and drive active infrastructure/spectrum sharing among operators. M&A activity is redefining the subscriber and market shares of telecom operators.

At the same, there are several challenges for operators. With the ever-increasing data demand and the unavailability of the requisite number of sites to support the same, operators are finding it difficult to provide a high quality experience to the customers. This is a major cause for concern because mobile internet quality holds as much importance for customers as network coverage and voice quality. Moreover, subscribers’ usage patterns are changing, with the majority of data being consumed indoors, which further affects the quality of service.

Another major issue is that of network complexity since most of the operators provide a mix of 2G, 3G and 4G services. Besides, operators are struggling to reduce the subscriber churn caused by the increased competition in the market.

New business opportunities and solutions

Government’s initiatives such as Digital India, Smart Cities Mission and Make in India have created a new wave of business opportunities for players across the telecom value chain. The Digital India programme seeks to provide digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen and involves the laying of optic fibre in 250,000 gram panchayats, the deployment of 400,000 public internet access points and provision of e-governance services to all citizens. The Make in India initiative envisages setting up a robust manufacturing ecosystem for the electronics goods sector. Meanwhile, the Smart Cities Mission aims to build cities that use technology to offer governance and services on demand.

Data usage is expected to increase significantly as the Digital India and Smart Cities Mission start gaining greater traction, going forward. To support the surge in data traffic and improve user experience, telecom operators need to take a number of network deployment initiatives. Operators in India should follow global telecom players and fiberise their networks to support the burgeoning data traffic. Further, they can deploy more small cells to enhance network capacities and serve more customers. In addition, Wi-Fi networks can be used for offloading data traffic from the cellular networks. Meanwhile, Indian operators are also well positioned to implement carrier aggregation, which involves combining spectrum from different bands to increase network capacity. Tower companies can help operators in implementing this technology.

Based on a presentation by Amit Marwah, Head, End-to-End Solution Sales, Nokia Networks

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