18-05-2016 My Mobile
It might be delivering blazingly fast Internet to your handset or tablet. And it is getting increasingly more accessible in geographical as well as financial terms. Whether you want a phone or a connection. But is the time ripe for you to move to 4g? or should you wait?
Technological change has reached the level of being a constant in our lives today. Rare indeed is the month or even week that passes without the announcement of some new technology that is a significant upgrade to the existing one. And in the case of mobile connectivity, it is currently 4G that seems to be the next big step forward, from 2G to 2.5G and indeed 3G. If the attention being paid to it and advertising Rupees being splurged to promote it are any indication, 4G is clearly the next big thing in mobile connectivity and after a somewhat hesitant start is becoming increasingly easy to avail of in India.
4G storm coming!
Even sales of 4G handsets are on the rise. According to IDC, “4G smartphone shipments in India surpassed 3G volumes for the first time during the fourth quarter of 2015, with Samsung and Lenovo accounting for more than half of the volumes.” The 4G handset shipments spiked to 13.9 million units accounting for more than half of the market in the fourth quarter of 2015, the firm said, adding that shipments from much awaited Reliance Jio started pouring in the fourth quarter, incrementally contributing to a fast growing LTE share in India. India is expected to have 9 crore 4G subscribers and 18 crore 4G smartphones by 2018.
“We expect 4G smartphone base to jump from 5 million in financial year (FY) 2015 to 180 million (18 crore) by FY 2018, leading to 4G subscribers accelerating from almost zero in FY 2016 to 90 million (9 crore) by FY 2018,” a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoFA ML) research analysts Sachin Salgaonkar, Karan Parmanandka and Simon Dong-je Woo said.
What is 4G LTE?
4G LTE, the fourth generation internet connectivity option is considered to be the most advanced version of mobile connectivity. When we talk about connectivity, it not only means for the Internet browsing services, but it includes other swift services like calling, downloading, navigating and more. Considerably fastest of all among the present options of mobile connectivity, a number of countries have started accessing the Internet and related services on 4G. Countries which top the list of 4G usage include North Korea with almost 97 per cent of 4G usage, followed by Japan with 90 per cent usage.
To get an idea of just how fast a 4G connection can be, consider this example: downloading a 10-minute video clip on a 3G connection can take you 10 minutes or more, but downloading the same clip on a 4G connection would take a matter of 35 seconds! That’s what 4G is capable of. Apart from speed, there is also the matter of VoLTE, as 4G connections provide markedly superior voice quality. But for most consumers, it is the sheer speed of connectivity that is likely to be a deciding factor.
Worth an upgrade?
In India, the first 4G spectrum auction was conducted in May 2010. At the time, Airtel, Reliance Jio (earlier known as Infotel), Aircel, Tikona and Qualcomm were granted licences by the Government. The operators who won 4G licenses in that auction were obligated to provide 90 per cent 4G coverage in metro cities and 50 per cent in rural areas within five years from the date of allocation. The Government also stated that if they failed to comply, the spectrum could be taken back and reauctioned. Today, telecom service providers like Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea are pushing 4G/LTE connections. The big question is: is it worth upgrading?
LG India Head-Marketing and Mobile Communication Division, Amit Gujral, certainly thinks so. “With all the major telecom companies in the country already launching their 4G services, that too at an affordable price, this is an ideal time for users to shift to 4G,” he says. YU Televenture’s COO,Shubhodip Pal, agrees. “2016 is a marking a significant year for the 4G ecosystem. Considering that 4G is still at a nascent stage in the country, right now would be a good time to make the shift from 3G to 4G,” he said.
Atul Jain, LeEco India, COO Smart Electronics Business, felt that “with changing lifestyles and evolving work patterns, people are constantly on the move and use their commuting time to catch up on emails, their favourite shows, music, movies; sometimes even connecting with their friends and family over video calls.” Not surprisingly, he too is bullish about the need to move to 4G. “For consumers to fully utilize the benefits that these new age smartphones offer, it is imperative for them to have a high speed and reliable data connection. Hence, upgrading to a 4G connection would be the ideal choice for consumers who are primarily users of heavy and hi-definition content,” he said.
Jerold Chagas Pereira, Business Head at Universal Digital Connect, Videocon Mobile Phones, Handset Division, agreed about the speed benefits of 4G. “4G, in simple words, fourth-generation of wireless technology networks is all about faster Internet on the go. A step up from 3G, meaning superfast web surfing, downloading/streaming videos and downloading games/apps will be a lot faster than before,” he said. He however, also sounded a note of caution. “However, it does rely on good reception and a 4Gready handset, without either of which you won’t be getting faster anything, let alone Internet,” he pointed out.
A matter of access One of the biggest factors that is making people pause before upgrading to 4G is the matter of connectivity. It is one thing to have a service, quite another to provide it in a satisfactory and efficient manner. This is an issue that had confronted Indian users in the early days of the 3G era and now seems to be haunting 4G as well. Telecom operators insist that 4G is available in most areas - witness the highprofile advertising campaign featuring the Airtel 4G girl - but not everyone is convinced.
“I am not happy with the services and the VoLTE works badly. 3G was much better. I ported my eight phones from Vodafone to Airtel, because I was convinced by the ad campaign which has been publicised everywhere, but the performance is very average. Talking about the VoLTE, the network keeps on dropping and the browsing speed is very lame,” a mobile store owner, who is using a 4G SIM told us. There is a battery angle to 4G as well - most phones consume battery faster when on 4G connections, and also tend to consume a lot of battery searching for a 4G connection, when one is not available.
Cost, however, is not a factor. Most of the network providers are currently giving 4G services at 3G rates. And combined with the ad campaign, the strategy certainly seems to be striking a chord with consumers. A Help desk person at the Airtel store in Delhi told us “People are upgrading their Airtel SIMs to 4G and I think the advertisement has made some impact. We have registered 70 per cent hike in footfalls for the same.”
Another mobile retailer stated that those coming in for upgrading their SIM cards were “specifically youth who are of the age band of 20 years and above and professionals like from the age of 30-40 years.” He added that some regular customers were also upgrading their SIM cards.
So all said and done, India seems to be gearing for a 4G take off. The phones are there, so are the connections and at the time of writing, so were the rates for the same - it is possible to get a reasonably powerful 4G smartphone without spending a bomb today (check out our My Guide section if you do not believe us). Yes, there are teething troubles as regards connectivity but then these are par for the course when one is switching from one generation of technology to another. So should you opt for a 4G connection? Well, we would recommend doing a rough recce of the area you are going to use the phone in - if the connection holds, there is no logical reason why you should not get ready to surf the Web on a 4G phonesurfboard!