India’s internet consumption up during Covid-19 lockdown, shows data

Data from the department of telecommunications showed that between March 22 and March 28, Indians consumed an average of 307,963 TB or 307 petabytes (PB) of data.

This was a hike of 9% from the 282,282 TB or 282 PB of data used on March 21, the day when the “janata curfew” was announced, and a hike of 13% from March 19, when the consumption was 270 PB. (Bloomberg file photo. Representative image)

India’s internet consumption rose by 13% since the nationwide lockdown was put in place to check the spread of Covid-19, according to telecom ministry data that showed Indians consumed 308 petabytes (PB) or 308,000 terabytes (TB) of data daily on an average for the week beginning March 22.

According to the department of telecom, which collated reports from service providers, the daily average consumption in this period was 9% higher than 282PB data used on March 21 (the day the janta curfew was announced) and 13% more than March 19, when consumption was 270 PB.

The change reflected how people consumed more streaming content and logged on to work from home, which was also captured in how data demand from residences rose as compared to commercial areas.

The consumption, DoT figures show, peaked on two days — March 22 and March 27 — when 312 PB of data was used. On March 26, 311 PB of data was consumed. The lockdown, announced on March 24, began on March 25. On March 22, India was put under a voluntary, one-day curfew.

Since the first week, however, consumption has now stabilised around the 300PB mark.

The data in one PB is equivalent to 500 billion pages of standard printed text.

Andhra Pradesh and Bihar saw some of the most drastic increase – it rose by 12% in both states. In Maharashtra, where data consumption was highest among all states under the lockdown period, the increase was 7%.

The government said that that increase was within their capacity. “We have the capacity to handle a spike of 20% without any duress. We optimised the fibre optics network and have not yet reported a breakdown,” said a DoT official, asking not to be named.

The consumption, the official added, rose lower than it would have since many streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix decided to downgrade video quality.

Rajan Mathews of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said around the third week of March, operators recorded a 30% jump in traffic with most of it from people streaming videos. The COAI wrote to OTT sites to downsize their content.

The decision by media companies to disable high-quality video and optimise bandwidth usage helped networks meet the increased demand, Mathews said, adding that the operators also started using unused cell towers.

“With the consumption moving to residential places, the challenge was that these areas resist installation of cell towers. We worked with the government to ensure that of 800 unused cell towers in metro cities, 730 were made functional,” said Mathews.

A third factor that helped, according to Mathews, was operators being allowed to carry out maintenance work. “Complaints of cuts in fibre optic cables were about 100 a day on an average, this fell down to 6-7 a day,” he said.

India’s consumption rates have seen a steady increase over the last few years. Nokia’s annual Mobile Broadband India Traffic Index (MBiT) report says that there was a whopping 47% jump in the overall data traffic in India in 2019. This translates to 11 GB a month per user, and is driven by 4G consumption.

SpeedTest, a site that analyses internet access performance across the globe, in its latest report on tracking COVID-19’s impact on speeds around the world which was updated on April 15, showed a 6% decline in fixed line speeds and 18% in mobile speeds when compared to the week of March 2. As per the report, India’s current broadband speed is an average of 36.17 mbps and mobile download speed is 9.67 mbps.

While the report put India behind countries like China, Austria, Japan, Israel and UAE, in terms of mobile and fixed broadband performance, it was ahead of countries like Italy, France, Germany, and Canada.

Rajesh Chharia of the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) said that while the strain has not increased, internet service providers (ISPs) should be allowed to share infrastructure. He said that it’s a long-term demand, which is awaiting the Centre’s nod.

“If the infrastructure of a provider is full, they may be allowed to overload it with the infrastructure of another to spread the network. This will ensure uninterrupted services,” said Chharia.