The story of mobile data in Bengaluru
First things first, let's put aside some details and facts about what made me to do this test as such. I usually have at least two sim cards, sometimes four just to get an exact view of who provides good service and where in the city.
The where part is very important as one has to understand that you will not get great data speeds or great call quality everywhere in the city you live. There are a lot of factors that become the reason for this behaviour including distance from cell tower, inability to provide more cell towers or signal amplifiers due to low numbers of users in the area, etc.
Players in the comparison
So I had one sim from each provider - Reliance Jio, Airtel, Idea 4G and Vodafone. Good enough to compare LTE data or 4G data as some claim - whatever be the minor differences.
By some of the conversation and information on quora - Theoretically LTE is expected to support a speed of around 100Mbps for users in motion and around 1Gbps for stationary users. The most recent report on LTE speeds on networks worldwide shows that the Vodafone ES network in Spain was the fastest offering speeds of around 25.2Mbps on average.
4G is a replacement for 3G, and LTE is a type of 4G which is superior to normal 4G. In any case the typical speeds of 4G are about 10x that of 3G speeds.
I had two locations to measure my LTE speeds, home and office. For this blog post, the readings you will see are for the home part. My home is located next to an army area, where there are no mobile towers nearby. So the expectation is that speeds would be low in general for data. The office was a different scenario.
One location was outside the rooms, in public areas like the cafe, and the other was where I currently sit, inside the building. Again the expectation was that the former case will yield better results while the latter will yield much worse speeds due to building layouts and the likes.
Means to compare speeds
There are lots of apps available these days to help compare mobile data speeds, and each one have their own servers they use, and their own means they use to compare the speed. The popular app is speed test by Ookla which many people use for a lot of time now.
I wanted to use a mobile site which would not necessitate me to download and install apps of any kind. For this I chose FAST which is owned by Netflix. They also offer to compare with SpeedTest at the bottom of the results pages in case you so desire. Due to ease of use, it was FAST for me.
I have used Samsung S8, Apple iPhone 7+, and Apple iPhone SE for the measurements - all pretty decent equipment when it come to hardware. Best selling top notch phones to be precise.
Comparison test and results - who do you think is the best?
By the order of the results we see that Reliance offered 1.4 Mbps, Vodafone 3.4 Mbps, Airtel 430 Kbps, and Idea 6.2 Mbps. Some explanations and comments here while trying to understand these results.
- Reliance though on VoLTE, was pretty pathetic at 1.4 Mbps. I can go on to say I have got upto 50+ Mbps (twice of average mentioned above) at best, and once inside the office at few hundreds of Kbps at the worst. But at a location such as home without much hindrances to the signal, the data speeds achieved is nothing short of terrible. You can see that my signals showed 4/4 bars. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.
- Vodafone have been my staple for a long time now (few years) - I particularly like their billing policies, bill details and communication. Their call quality is not particularly clear (as in HD voice) and their data was nearing between 15-20 Mbps at locations which had great signal. The signal I must mention is NOT LTE, but only 4G. At my home I had 3/4 bars of signal but still slow and terrible speeds of only 3.4 Mbps. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.
- Our favourite Airtel next - I think of the lot I tested - the most horrible was Airtel averaging a little over 430 Kbps. Absolutely disastrous. 2/4 signal bars only worsens the prospects of having any decent speeds and the results are not surprising. The signal here was 4G, NOT LTE again.
- Now the dark horse among the participants - Idea LTE. I had heard a lot about Idea, but never really got a chance to try them out. And surprisingly hold your breath - I got a 6.2 Mbps at the same location with just 2/5 bars. Impressive. But both at home and office, their call quality was circumspect and you cannot have data but not good calls as the whole purpose of having a phone is lost if that is the case. But I understand Idea is merging with Vodafone shortly - so I already know the end result of that marriage.
Comments in conclusion
- Most operators suffer similar LTE speeds
- Higher signal bars does not mean great LTE speeds
- 4G or LTE is not seeming to make that much of difference
- Many providers are giving less than 3G speeds charging people for 4G - but this is very much dependent on mobile tower strength and density of users, among other things distance as well
- You need to find out whether there are areas where the peak LTE speeds are available and test your phone there to understand what is the maximum capacity the mobile providers would go up to.
- Using different speed measurement apps may alter your results to some extent, so use one that has a consistent way of measurement
- Buy a SIM from a provider who offers you good speeds both at home, and office besides the on the way to work in general - this is where you will spend a lot of time during your life.
- You need to also check the speeds while traveling between cities - what is good in one city maybe bad elsewhere and vice versa and if you are the constantly traveling kind of person this is another parameter to check
- Complaining to the operator may or may not resolve the issue especially if they have to boost the mobile tower reception in your area - this is a huge cost and it is not justified to the operator unless there is a return on investment for him. This will also take a lot of time typically couple of years or more to become better based on development needs in the area - how many people more are asking for connections etc.
- Building constraints such as pillars or thick walls can obstruct speeds to some extent as well. This point is a bit understated but its effects are adverse to a great degree.
So who is the winner finally in the speed test? I will not go by just the results shown here as I have conducted tests elsewhere in the city as well. I have not only used fast.com but also tried downloading mail attachments, or bigger files from same source on different connections. The idea of having good speed is generally to make the access to files, movies, and songs seamless to the extent the user does not feel the slow speeds.
And in this regard the order or mobile operators that do reasonably well are
- Reliance Jio LTE
- Idea LTE
- Vodafone 4G
- Airtel 4G
A lot can vary depending on where this test is done, ie., either in a village or a smaller town, or a place which has not so much of great connectivity. All these tests were done in Bangalore in a decent locality where all providers have their presence.
Do you feel your mileage is different ? - It would be great to hear your viewpoint, let me know in the comments below.