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As India enters the second week of a nationwide lockdown that began on 23 March, data is fast becoming the lifeblood of the country. Even as the nation’s roads are eerily empty, traffic online is only ramping up. With businesses and schools shuttered as the country tries desperately to diffuse the ticking Covid-19 timebomb, moving operations online is imperative.

Consequently, video conferencing apps have surged in popularity. Zoom, for example, quickly became the most-downloaded app in the country, racing past the likes of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

But in a country that already has the highest data usage per smartphone highest data usage per smartphone Livemint A report by Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson says the usage will double to 18GB by 2024, fuelled by rich video content Read more  globally, this increase in online activity simply isn’t sustainable. Only 19 million subscribers 19 million subscribers Trai As per the reports received from 341 operators in the month of December 2019, the number of broadband subscribers increased from 661.27 million at the end of Nov-19 to 661.94 million at the end of Dec-19 with a monthly growth rate of 0.10%. Read more  access the internet through wired broadband, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). As a result, the overwhelming majority of traffic is on mobile wireless networks, which are creaking under the strain. 

Executives at leading telecom operators and  telecom equipment firms told The Ken that the traffic load across the board has increased by 35-40%. This is a considerable jump from the 5-8% increase in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, as per industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). Crucially, say those in the space, data usage is still growing.

To put this in perspective, as of December 2019, India’s three remaining private telecom operators—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea—reported cumulative daily traffic of approximately 250 petabytes petabytes 1 Petabyte 1 million gigabytes . Today, that figure is around 360-380 petabytes a day, said a senior executive working closely with Jio’s network. 

And with the populace stuck at home, peak hours, have gone from 8:30AM-10AM and 7PM-11PM to all day, every day. 

“Initially, we believed that data usage will flatten by the end of the week, but that hasn’t happened,” said an executive with a global telecom tech company with extensive operations in India.

Compounding this chaos, most of this traffic is coming from residential areas, which have lower network capacity.


Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

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