Strategic investments by the operators will be key to India’s 5G evolution

The Internet speed testing and analysis company, Ookla is betting on its recent acquisitions to bring valuable insights for the telecom operators and services providers into the performance, quality, and accessibility of the available networks worldwide.

The company did three acquisitions last year- Mosaik, mobile coverage analytics; Downdetector, real-time status, and outages report service; and Ekahau, industry-standard Wi-Fi network planning and site survey tools. The expanded capabilities are helping Ookla get a comprehensive view of worldwide network dynamics and performance. 

The data also helps telecom operators and services providers as well as governments to plan the services better. 

To help the operators and the industries track 5G network deployment, the company has also launched a first-of-its-kind interactive 5G Map tracking the 5G rollouts worldwide including the limited and commercial availability of it. As India also prepares for the 5G era with a spectrum auction process just around the corner,

Doug Suttles, Co-founder & General Manager at Ookla talks about the company’s success mantra and shares his observations on the state of Internet connectivity in India, and the challenges faced by the operators as they prepare to usher into a whole-new connectivity paradigm with 5G.

What’s the key to your success of being a widely trusted Internet speed test app? 

I believe our success stems from our commitment to providing transparency into the performance of networks through an objective, accurate approach for the benefit of both consumers and the industry in everything we do. For years, Ookla has offered an unparalleled view into the state of the global telecommunications industry by pioneering mobile and broadband testing applications and network intelligence. Our approach puts consumer empowerment at the forefront and we are trusted by consumers, regulators and operators alike because of our reliable test, data and associated methodologies. 

What are your learnings about Indian network providers vis-a-vis the international providers? 

A multitude of factors can impact the performance of a network in any country, including the quality of physical infrastructure and the geographical features in the regions where that infrastructure is placed. Since India is both large in population and vast in geographic size, operators and networks in the country are specifically affected by a unique set of challenges.

Indian operators are faced with the challenge of servicing an expansive landmass with a diverse set of topographical features that other smaller countries do not have to address. For instance, Norway and Singapore both rank near the top in global country rankings, but they are also in an advantaged position because of their small size. Along the same lines, rural areas can be hard to service because they are less connected to a developed network system that is more readily present in an urban environment.

Separate from geographical complications, among the largest factors in network congestion and an unreliable connection is due to the number of people using a network at a given time. For example, while some cities may have a strong infrastructure in place, multiple connections being made to the same network at the same time is often the cause of an experience plagued with poor speed and quality. Given the complexities of the Indian market, it’s clear operators are taking the most advantageous approach possible in offering their users a quality experience.

How do you see the current state of the networks in India and how is it evolving for the upcoming 5G era? 

Since the launch of Jio’s free data offering in 2016, the Indian telecom industry has changed drastically over the span of just three years. The market shift created a rippling effect where India became the leading country in data consumption, which then led to a severe impact on network capacity. Due to these factors, the need for operators and regulators alike to develop the country’s networks and focus on infrastructure improvements has become apparent. In a positive light, consumers have benefited from more 4G accessibility, and other operators have been competitively driven towards improvement in both network development and service pricing.

Now as the country is set for the 5G spectrum auction, there are mixed opinions among operators as to how best to prepare the industry for a successful rollout. While Jio prepares to launch 5G services in 2020, Vodafone and Airtel keep their focus on 4G in the midst of regulatory and infrastructure blocks. As we observe operators taking different approaches, the evolution of networks in India will depend largely on where and how they choose to invest in the face of 5G developments. Along with the technology, 5G deployment strategies are brand new and the transition will likely happen over an extended period of time.

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