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Why TRAI’s MySpeed app test results aren’t reliable

Reliance Jio had the highest average 4G download speed of 18.9 Mbps, while its rival operator and the largest telecom operator Airtel (in terms of subscribers) had an average 4G speed of just 9.1 Mbps, according to TRAI’s crowd sourced data from MySpeed app. Vodafone came second with 12.2 Mbps, while Idea had an average 4G download speed of 11.7 Mbps.

In the 3G segment, Vodafone topped with 5.3 Mbps average download speeds, Airtel’s speeds stood at 3.4 Mbps, while Idea has 3.2 Mbps average 3G download speed, as per TRAI data. However, TRAI’s report, which is based on download speeds, cannot be taken into account to point out that Jio is, in fact, the fastest 4G operator in the country. Here is why:

  • TRAI does not disclose sample size number and this is the biggest reason as to why consumers shouldn’t be making decision based on TRAI data. The data comes directly from the MySpeed app, which currently has between 1 million to 5 million app installs via Play Store. MySpeed app test results represent a very insignificant portion of the 1.01 billion active connections in India. Also note that there were at least 4 million new active mobile additions in April, which is almost same or possibly more than the total number of MySpeed app installs on Android.
  • Other speed test results are portraying different numbers: In April, wireless coverage mapping firm Open Signal put out a report saying that Airtel is the fastest operator in India with 11.5 Mbps download speed. However, in the same month, TRAI’s MySpeed test results claimed that Jio is instead the fastest operator with an average speed of 16 Mbps, while Airtel’s speed was just at around 7.66 Mbps. Adding to the mix-up, popular speed test service Ookla presented an “award” to Airtel in March claiming that Airtel is “India’s fastest mobile network”. Jio immediately took shots at Airtel, along with a complaint to the advertising regulator ASCI. ASCI then directed Airtel to withdraw these claims.
  • MySpeed app test results do not include Mi-Fi or 4G hotspot devices: As of April 2017, there were 265.43 million mobile broadband users in India, and this number released by TRAI counts phone and dongle users together. Note that Jio itself has been pricing its Mi-Fi devices at attractive rates to push up dongle usage.

TRAI and consumers need to look beyond download speeds

We have pointed out in several instances that 4G speeds in India is not up to the mark. Research firm Akamai further revealed that India had an average mobile internet speed (2G+3G+4G) of just 3.5 Mbps—this is the slowest connection speed among APAC countries after Vietnam (3.5 Mbps). The UK had the fastest average internet speed globally at 23.7 Mbps. And secondly, most 4G operators in India have fallback capacity, allowing service providers to fallback to a lower cellular standard (3G or 2G) to sustain a low-strength connection. This is the principal reason why TRAI and consumers must look beyond download speeds while measuring Quality of Service.

From the same TRAI MySpeed test results, one can notice that TRAI provides average Signal strength data. Signal strength is denoted in dBm (decibel-milliwatts) and can technically be used to measure the strength of the signal being emitted from an antenna to the mobile device receiving the signal. As per a report from Comm Devices, a telecom device manufacturer, dBm value can mean the following:

For perspective: Jio’s average 4G Signal Strength is -84.84 dBm which can be considered as “good”. Airtel’s average is -93.68 dBm and can be considered as “average”. Now again since this average data does not count most mobile users in the country, I’m attaching individual speed test results of Jio that I conducted via MySpeed app. These tests cover two circles—Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Jio’s speeds peaked at midnight:
On daytime speeds dropped to as low as 2Mbps:

What TRAI should be doing

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As per its own suggestions, Quality of Service must be advertised/discoursed using more network metrics like ping rate or latency, down-time, packet loss, uplink/downlink speeds, always on speed (or minimum guaranteed speed) among others. TRAI itself had said in a consultation paper that mandating telcos to disclose such information to consumers can bring in more transparency, since there is not guarantee of the advertised speeds being met.

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