BENGALURU — The average 4G LTE data speed in India has remained static for more than a year - at about 6.1Mbps - which is almost a third of the global average of about 17 Mbps, making it among the slowest countries on this metric.

Even as the big telcos step up 4G deployment, brace for 5G and talk of offering fibre-based home broadband at starting speeds of 100 Mbps soon, data junkies have little reason to cheer, says a report in The Economic Times.

India’s 4G download speeds are even slower than that of neighbours Sri Lanka (13.95Mbps), Pakistan (13.56 Mbps) and Myanmar (15.56 Mbps), according to UK speed tester OpenSignal. They are much lower than developed markets such as the US (16.31 Mbps), UK (23.11Mbps) and Japan (25.39 Mbps).

US data speed tester Ookla has ranked India 109th - almost at the bottom in its list of 124 nations - on overall mobile internet speeds, with an average download speed of 9.12 Mbps, which is way below the 23.54 Mbps global average. Ookla’s mobile internet speed test results for any country include measurements of various networks — 2G, 3G and 4G.

Ookla spokesman Adriane Blum said a possible reason behind India’s slower mobile internet speeds is the challenge of serving an extremely dense population. “With more people using the internet at any given time, network congestion can certainly be a factor,” he pointed out.

Reiterating this, OpenSignal analyst Peter Boyland said the comparatively slower speeds in India are due to the “astronomical growth in terms of smartphone penetration in India, with millions of new users connecting to its mobile networks every month”.

Experts said a country’s 4G speeds also depend on how much spectrum is devoted to LTE, whether it has adopted new 4G technologies like LTE Advanced, how densely networks are built and congestion levels.

“The spectrum per operator in India is low compared to other countries, which affects 4G network speeds,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India.

The COAI represents top telcos such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Mathews also blamed low 4G data speeds on “the frequent shutting down of internet across the country by law enforcement agencies, challenges in securing permissions to install vital telecom infrastructure and even undue tower shutdowns by municipal bodies.”

However, ex-Bharti Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor said the current pricing and generous quantum of data on packs offered by telcos, amid continuing price wars, are “probably a lot more than what present networks are designed to handle, which can spoil customer 4G experience in terms of speeds and pervasiveness.”

Another possible reason, he said, is that barring Jio, which is the sole pure 4G player, big telcos continue to run multiple mobile technologies. Accordingly, most networks, he said, “are not offering contiguous 4G coverage, which is why, mobile signals can drop off from 4G to 3G to 2G to fill the 4G gaps that, in turn, can impact speeds and experience.”

Some analysts partly ascribed the phenomenon to higher latency levels of Indian telcos. Latency is a measure of the delay that users experience when their computers/smartphones try to access internet servers.

“In India, Vodafone had the lowest latency in our measurements, with a response time of 66.4 milliseconds, but that’s still relatively high as most operators around the world tend to fall within a range of 30-50 milliseconds,” said an OpenSignal spokesperson.

Lower latency connections typically mean webpages load faster and videos start playing sooner. The telcos said they are stepping up site capacity and investing in advanced technologies to boost 4G speeds.

According to the report, almost all the major operators are working on ways to increase 4G speeds.

Leading operator Idea Cellular had recently deployed spectrum-sharing technology that allocates airwaves dynamically between 2G and 4G networks based on traffic demand. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India are deploying pre-5G Massive MIMO technology, which is expected to enhance network capacity by 5-7 times over the existing spectrum resources.

— Sufia Tippu is a freelance tech journalist based in India contributing to EE Times India