Running a 5G speed test? Your phone data may disappear in seconds

Social media platforms like Twitter are rife with Indian users posting screenshots of tests showing high speeds under 5G but complaining of their data packs getting exhausted after one too many speed tests. That’s because, with each test run, the app takes up about 700-800 MB of data – or almost half of the usual daily data limits – to gauge the sustained download speed for 15-20 seconds.

For example, Mumbai-user Gaurav Hasnabis complained that data consumption in games, social media, and streaming apps have shot up even though his usage patterns remained the same. For instance, 10 minutes of browsing Instagram on 5G consumed 207 MB of data for him, while on 4G it was around 120 MB.

That’s because these apps, and others like them, load content in higher quality in areas with ample 5G coverage. And once applications for metaverse, cloud gaming, 4K and 8K streaming come into the picture, data consumption will shoot up further, said an industry executive.

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A typical speed check showed download speeds upwards of 500 Mbps, sometimes even 800 Mbps, for a user in Delhi. But that meant more than 1 GB of data had been consumed in less than a minute, forcing her to buy additional data packs.

Currently, Jio, under its beta trials, allows one to use unlimited data limit for a recharge of a minimum of Rs 230. For Airtel users, 5G services are being offered at the current 4G rates and with daily data limits.

The operators are expected to roll out 5G specific plans once the coverage expands to most parts of India, said an industry executive familiar with the matter. Vodafone Idea has not started offering 5G services as yet.

“Telcos expect data usage to go up at least 2.5 times, if not more, to roughly 40-50 GB, once you start becoming a consumer of 5G,” said a telecom industry executive. He noted that data consumption in the 4G era is around 17 GB per user per month, compared with 300 MB in the 3G era.

Sweden’s Ericsson expects data consumption in India to rise to 50GB per user per month by the end of 2027, when 5G is projected to account for almost 40 percent of mobile subscriptions.

In markets where 5G networks are already functional with a large user base, like the United States and South Korea, data consumption has already spiked by up to 2.7x, according to a 2021 report by OpenSignal. Consumers in markets like Taiwan were consuming 47.3GB of data per month, especially during the COVID-19 period.

Prashant Singhal, telecom analyst at Ernst and Young, said the sudden increase in data consumption will act as an educational exercise for consumers who need to learn how to control their data usage by turning off non-essential items on their devices.

An analyst at a multinational brokerage, who wished not to be identified, added that in the initial phase, telcos may let users exhaust their data packs quicker to encourage them to buy more data, preparing them for increased costs of using 5G services.

And amid higher data consumption in the 5G era, telcos may see a rise in the average revenue per user (ARPU) over time, said Singhal. The average industry ARPU is around Rs165 now.

Bharti Airtel has rolled out its 5G services in eight cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Varanasi, and Siliguri. Jio’s beta trials are on in New Delhi, Nathdwara, Varanasi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru.

Airtel has said its 5G service will be live in all key urban centers by March 2023 and most urban and rural areas by March 2023. Reliance Jio said it will be able to complete rollout in the key metros by December 2022 and cover pan-India by the end of 2023.

Amidst the 5G rollouts, a Cybermedia Research (CMR) survey showed that Indian youth want a better experience riding on higher specifications for creating and consuming content and for gaming. This is one of the triggers for shipments of premium smartphones priced between Rs 25,000 – 30,000 growing 9% on-year in the third quarter ended September, while the uber-premium smartphone range priced between Rs 50,000 – Rs 1,00,000 jumped 39% on -year, CMR said.

The 5G handset user base, although still at a nascent stage, is rising aggressively each quarter. 5G smartphone shipments in the third quarter grew 30% year-on-year in the quarter ended September 2022. Most Chinese handset brands, which form almost 85% of the market, have rolled out updates to support 5G networks in India.

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