Internet speeds fall to lowest in 2 years
Indians experienced the slowest internet speeds in at least two years in March when the country locked down to slow the spread of the Coronavirus disease, analysis of data from the government’s MySpeed application showed.
The nationwide lockdown began in the last week of March while some states ordered closure of schools and a ban on public gatherings even before that, which led to people staying home. Hindustan Times last week reported, from government data, that India’s daily average internet consumption in the week beginning March 22 (Janata curfew day) was 13% more than the average daily consumption in the previous week.
The MySpeed application by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) collects data by occasionally testing internet speed on smartphones of users who have installed the application. The authority then makes six-month average results and raw data public.
An analysis of the raw data from the application showed that median download speeds were 2.8 megabits per second in March. This was the lowest monthly median download speed in at least two years, since April 2018, when the app started tracking speeds. The median upload speed of 1.9 Mbps was also the lowest in the two years. Before this March, the download speed was the lowest in December 2019 (3.5 Mbps) while the upload speed was the lowest in October 2019 (2 Mbps).
Specifically, 4G users got a median download speed of 3.1 Mbps speed while 3G users got a median of 0.8 Mbps speed, both the lowest in two years.
Median is considered a better measure of central tendency than the mean, when there are extreme values that could skew calculations.
The median download and upload speeds in February this year were 4.2 and 2.4 Mbps, compared to 2.8 and 1.9 Mbps in March, which means a drop of 34% and 20% respectively.
This drop in the internet speeds was seen across all major telecom operators -- Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, Jio and the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited. Median download speeds on all these networks were their lowest in two years.
Also, the download speed in 16 of the country’s 23 telecom circles dropped to the two-year low in the respective states.
Ookla, an internet testing and analysis company, has also reported that download speeds on mobile devices in India declined by about 14% and on fixed broadband by about 9% between February and March this year.
As the nationwide lockdown that India imposed led to a surge in internet consumption, several video streaming applications jointly decided on March 25 to temporarily suspend high definition and ultra high definition video options to help telecommunication services run smoothly with the increased demand. This came after the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), an association of private telecom operators, called for such measures to reduce the burden on the networks during the lockdown.
When asked for a comment, COAI officials said that they will look into the data and then issue a comment. Till the time of going to print, they had not issued a statement.
That there has been a spike in demand for high data consuming services such as video streaming portals is evident with data from Google Trends, a tool that helps analyse the popularity of search queries. Youtube, Netflix and Amazon Prime – names of some of the prominent video streaming websites – and general terms such as ‘movies’ and ‘web series’ were at the peak of their search popularity during the nationwide lockdown, in comparison to any time in the last one year.
Other than this, many schools and colleges started online classes while businesses made more use of e-meeting platforms for video conferencing.
To be sure, the drop in internet speed in March was seen even as the country started to lock down only in the later half of the month. Whether Indians continued to experience slower internet or the telecom operators were able to scale up the capacity of their infrastructure allowing faster internet connectivity will be known when the data for April is made available.