Despite having one of the largest number of Internet users in the world, India’s ambitious digital ambitions continue to be hindered by slow Internet connection speeds. India had both the slowest average connection speed and peak connection speed in Asia-Pacific, according to Akamai’s latest State of the Internet Report for the fourth quarter of 2015.
In comparison to India’s paltry average connection speed of 2.8 Mbps, South Korea had the highest in Asia-Pacific and the world at 26.7 Mbps. India also had the lowest average peak connection speed at 21.2 Mbps, while Singapore retained the top spot at 135 Mbps.
Overall, India occupied the 115th position for average connection speed and the 114th position for average connection speed globally. The average page load time for a broadband connection in the country was 3.9 seconds.
India’s slow Internet is a big problem. A few months ago, the country overtook the US in the world’s second-largest Internet user base, with an estimated 402 million users. Over 76% Indians access the Internet on their mobiles, but are plagued by patchy and slow connections.
The country’s Internet connection speed is in fact suspected to be far lower than suggested by Akamai. While the figure of 2.5 Mbps is the lowest in Asia, it is still far higher than the official figure set by The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which classifies 512 Kbps as broadband.
The findings aren’t surprising. When YouTube launched its offline service last June, its ad focused on the inordinately long time it took to buffer videos in the country due to slow speeds.
Google and other Internet companies have tackled the problem by tweaking their products for the country’s slow Internet speeds and spotty connections. Google has introduced numerous offline features, such as letting users download YouTube videos to watch later and use Google Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation without Internet. It is also modifying web pages, Chrome and its search results to reach users who may not have Internet connection.
Facebook campaigned for its Free Basics platform that offered free access to the social networking app and a limited number of websites for news, health and information, before it was banned by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in February. It is now planning to start a cheap Wi-Fi service using drones to subsidise Internet costs in the country. Facebook is also piloting “Express Wi-Fi” service in India, where it will enable local entrepreneurs to launch cheap Wi-Fi networks.
India is one of the five biggest markets for Facebook Lite, the stripped-down version of the social networking app. The app, which provides data-efficient Facebook access to people with slow connections, was developed with the help of research in India.
There are however some signs of change. For instance, the Akamai report indicates that India doubled its rates of 4 Mbps and 15 Mbps broadband adoption in 2015, as compared to 2014.
Several private and government initiatives are trying to bring high-speed Internet to Indians. India’s telecom ministry has announced that the state-run carrier BSNL will set up 2,500 public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country by Mar. 2017. Microsoft is working on using “white space” or unused TV spectrum to offer free Wi-Fi to Indians.
Google is working on introducing free, high-speed Wi-Fi at 400 train stations across the country. The company aims to reach 10 million people by enabling Wi-Fi in 100 train stations in the first phase itself. Remarkably, the speed will be fast enough to stream high-definition video.
Google is also in talks with telecom providers to collaborate on Project Loon, using high-altitude balloons to beam high-speed Wi-Fi to remote areas in India. If these plans work, Indians may finally get a breather from excruciatingly slow Internet portrayed in the YouTube ad.
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