4G got a major boost in India with the arrival of Reliance Jio in September 2016. Since then, the amount of growth and traction that 4G services and smartphones have seen is tremendous. No other connectivity technology, including 2G or 3G, saw such fast adoption rates as 4G.
According to a Nokia MBiT Index report, 4G has displayed the fastest growth rate in the telecom history of India. Reliance Jio came to the market in 2016 and in less than 3 months added around 52 million 4G subscribers. By the end of 2016, the 4G subscriber base in India had grown to 70 million users.
The numbers grew to 702 million 4G subscribers at the end of 2020 from 70 million at the end of 2016.
Low-Cost 4G Smartphones Helped a Lot
One of the major reasons behind the growth in 4G adoption in India was the availability of low-cost 4G smartphones. At the end of 2016, the 4G device penetration stood at 12% at a PAN-India level. However, in the last 5 years, it has grown to 77% PAN-India level. In the metro cities, the 4G devices penetration was 22% in 2016, whereas, by the end of 2020, it stood at 83%.
The overall 4G data traffic in December 2016 was 13%; however, it grew to approximately 99% by the end of 2020. A & B circles of the country constituted 76% of the PAN-India data traffic in 2020. Since operators shifted their focus on the A, B, and C category circles, the data traffic growth rate for them was higher than that of metro circles which have attained 4G saturation.
With the rise of 4G, the overall data traffic of 3G fell sharply, which is not surprising in any manner.
The rise in Demand for Mid-Tier 4G Smartphones
The cheapest 4G phone in 2016 was priced at Rs 3,000. However, in 2017, that changed with the arrival of a new 4G phone costing Rs 1,500 only. In 2017, the average selling price of (ASP) of top 25 4G phones was Rs 10,000. But by the end of 2020, the demand for mid-tier 4G smartphones grew significantly, and almost 80% of the customers were opting for 4G devices below Rs 15,000 mark.
Cheap 4G smartphones helped with the increase in consumption of 4G data in the rural parts of the country. In 2020, 45% out of the total data consumption accounted for the data used by rural India.
The increase in data consumption has led to growth in average data usage per month. With a CAGR of 76% in the last five years, the average data usage per month grew from 2.7GB in 2016 to 13.4GB in 2020.
There was significant demand for smartphones in 2020 due to a rise in data consumption, which resulted in shipments of over 150 million units of 4G devices despite the COVID-19 restrictions.
Falling Data Rates Acted as Catalyst For Video Streaming and OTT Content Consumption
From Rs 226/GB data in 2016 to Rs 7/GB data in 2019, the data rates have fallen significantly. This acted as a catalyst for the growth of over-the-top (OTT) content platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, and more.
The growth in short-video consumption reached an all-time high, and the growth rate for average active monthly users consuming short-video content reached a 9x multiple in 2020 when compared with 2016.
Indians used to spend an average time of 3 hours on their smartphones back in 2016. That grew to about 5 hours of average time in 2020 on the back of falling tariff rates and cheaper 4G smartphones.
With the arrival of 5G networks and cheap 5G smartphones, by 2025, the average time spent on short video content is further expected to grow 4x.
Growing Fiberisation of Telecom Towers
Back in 2016, around 20% of the total telecom towers in India were fiberised. However, that percentage grew marginally to 32% by the end of 2020. The fixed broadband (FBB) growth was very slow at just 22% over the five years. In 2016, there were 18 million FBB subscribers, which grew to 22 million in 2020.
This is a sector the operators can focus on to grow their revenues fast since the need for fixed broadband has grown significantly.