Mobile internet usage increases just 10% since lockdown

NEW DELHI: Has mobile data usage surged? That’s emerging as a million-dollar question.

Top government sources said mobile internet usage had increased only by around 10% on average since the start of the lockdown, with metros like Delhi and Mumbai recording as little as a 3% rise, with small telecom circles seeing higher growth at 15%. This is contrary to telecom companies’ assertions of an over 20% surge in usage on average, following higher demand in urban areas.

“Data consumption on mobile networks has increased by about 10-12% and in fact in places like Delhi, it has inched by 3% while in some areas of the capital, it has actually fallen,” a senior government official told ET, asking not to be named.

Mobile phone operators though claimed that data usage had seen a far higher jump, even after video-streaming apps shifted to the SD format from HD. “Well, the mobile data consumption had surged by 30% but with shift in video-streaming from HD to SD … it has certainly come down but is still high enough at 20%,” Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) director-general Rajan Mathews said.

COAI has called on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to release more spectrum to tide over the strain on networks, a claim the government debunks. Officials said the government was regularly monitoring the situation and was in touch with the telcos. Mathews told ET: “DoT has indicated they will work with the industry to address their network needs, spectrum or other items, on a scientific and specific need-based basis.”

Officials, though, said they saw no evidence yet of networks being strained. “We think demand in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata has risen by 3%, 4% and 6%, respectively, since there has been a mass exodus of migrant population from these towns in the wake of Covid-19,” the official said, offering a possible explanation for the limited rise in mobile data demand in metros.

Jump in usage was 13% in Assam, 14% in Himachal Pradesh and 15% in West Bengal. “So, effectively, we are covered for now because the places which are seeing a surge in demand are places where there is sufficient capacity in networks and these areas have historically faced challenges in coverage not capacity, whereas the metros are areas where there have technically been capacity issues,” the official added.