The year 2016 is going to be a breakthrough year for 4G in the Indian telecom sector as the super-fast network is expected to be rolled out by all mobile service providers with over 300 million people expected to subscribe to it by the end of this year, say industry experts. “The year 2016 will herald the 4G revolution in India. Over a third of the Indian subscribers who do not subscribe to 4G currently are likely to do so by the end of this year. 4G services were introduced in India in April 2012. But, in many ways, 2015 was the key year when the push for mass rollouts across major markets gained momentum. Aggressive 4G rollout plans from major operators and the growing demand for 4G enabled handsets point towards 2016 being a breakthrough year to kick-start the 4G revolution in India,” P.N. Soneja, senior director at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, told The Sunday Guardian.
4G, or fourth generation, is superior standard to 3G mobile network and offers ultra-high speed mobile broadband internet access with superior data upload and download speeds than 3G. “It (4G) facilitates ultra-high-speed mobile broadband internet access offering peak upload speeds of 500 Mbps and peak download speeds of 1Gbps. The 4G technology provides wide area coverage with high speed data to mobile phones as well as laptops, tablets and wearable-tech. It supports seamless full HD streaming and high speed data transfer among other things. So, it is a whole new experience for users and we feel that it will cause quite a stir in the market this year,” said Ruben Maria, chief consultant, Deloitte Haskins & Sells India.
All leading operators have indicated their 4G ambitions for this year in terms of introduction of, and expansion of their 4G footprint in the country.
“Airtel has expanded its coverage to over 300 cities. The company is expected to continue expanding its 4G footprint across India. It is planning almost 23,000 high speed data sites over the next quarter. Vodafone, on the other hand, has been cautious in its approach until now. It is set for its 4G launch in the metros by March 2016. Idea is all set to expand its 4G footprint to 750 towns by June 2016 across 10 telecom circles. Adding to these, the pan-India launch of Reliance Jio will also improve the market. It seems certain now that 2016 will be the year of the 4G,” said Jacob Motta, secretary general, South Asia Telecommunity.
A consumer concern about 4G service is its likely high pricing. However, industry watchers say that 4G is likely to be offered at the current 3G prices and as the user base increases, prices will drop further.
“Price is an important parameter for customers while opting for such services. However, mobile-related factors like coverage and speed are the most significant ones. We expect more focus from the leading operators to be around lucrative pricing, as well as, well publicised network transformations. There are signs that operators have started taking steps in these directions. New entrants are widely expected to capture the existing operators’ subscriber base by following an aggressive low-price strategy. From industry leaders, we will see a large scale network transformation,” Motta said.
From the subscribers’ point of view, devices are no longer expected to be a constraint for 4G adoption. There are currently over 25 smartphone brands that offer 4G enabled devices in the country, and 10 of them have a model available for less than Rs 6,000. Prices are expected to decrease even further, making such devices viable for price conscious subscribers.
It is important to note that close to 9.3 million smartphones got shipped to India in October 2015, with 4G-based devices accounting for more than half of the share. This was the first time that 4G smartphone shipments for a month exceeded 3G shipments. The trend has continued and 4G phones are being shipped in by even higher numbers each month. “Over the next three years, it is expected that the current 4G user base would increase exponentially, thereby pushing Indian operators into a mad-rush to ensure that they are ready to capture the windfall,” said Sourav Suman, Vice President, Sales, Samsung India.
“Current initiatives by telecom operators in the country are heartening and encouraging for both manufacturers and the customers. Imagine, if you could download a full HD movie in less than 30 seconds on your smart device. You could stream HD content seamlessly anywhere in your city. E-commerce in India will witness a paradigm shift. E-governance will get a major boost as well,” Suman said.
In 4G, escalated speeds and improved connectivity provide users with a compelling and satisfactory browsing and shopping experience.
“Tele-medicine will kick off. Online education will see huge growth in rural sectors. There’s a world of opportunity that is knocking at our door. The popularity of wearable smart tech will increase significantly. Faster internet means ease of life, saved time, increased productivity, better customer service, increased satisfaction, faster online transactions and a better internet experience. India is one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world. It has to move with the tide. And that shift is very close,” Suman said.
“Usually, it is seen that potential buyers leave a particular site when they are just going to finalise their purchase. The reason is mostly connectivity problem or slow internet. With 4G, customers can quickly make purchases without having to face any such hassles. This is, thus, indirectly boosting the sales of e-commerce companies,” said Suresh Sharma, founder and director, iSpyPrice.com.
With 4G available for mobiles and laptops, e-commerce companies can be unperturbed about the size of images or videos on their web pages. Even on smartphones, users can enjoy the same experience as on a laptop or PC, due to higher connectivity and the speed offered by 4G. Another situation will justify the sturdy role that 4G is playing in the realm of e-commerce. Sometimes, due to slow connections or heavy traffic, online shopping websites tend to hang while making payments or while checking out. This leads to reduced customer confidence about whether they should make online purchases. This can result in dwindling sales of e-commerce companies, especially for startups in initial phases. With 4G at hand, buyers are able to make instant purchase decisions and check-out in a hassle-free way,” Sharma said.
Another sector that is expected to see major growth due to 4G expansion in India is the smartphone and wearable tech market. India is the third largest smartphone market at present, with annual sales of about 143 million units in the 2014-15 fiscal.
“We (India) are expected to become the world’s second largest smartphone market by 2017, selling around 174 million units, behind China’s 505 million. In fact, there has been a sizeable movement of 4G ready smartphones in the last six months. The sale of 4G smartphones has increased by over 600% in the last two years in India. More and more people are switching to 4G smartphones. And you can see the appeal. Nobody likes travelling in the slow lane. The increased 4G uptakes will also impact the way people communicate.
India will have at least 50 million users of Voice over LTE services, using the long-term evolution technology standard, by the end of 2016,” Soneja said.