Broadband seeks higher relevance than mobile data during a pandemic

The COVID 19 pandemic got millions across the world to work and learn from home. Being restricted and restrained, some of us discovered new facets to life and business. Among many other things, the internet became our connection to the world.

The greatest discoveries come out of chaos. 

The COVID 19 pandemic got millions across the world to work and learn from home. Being restricted and restrained, some of us discovered new facets to life and business. Among many other things, the internet became our connection to the world. 

In our battle to ensure continuity and connectivity, digital technologies formed the front and centre of everything. Broadband, which in India has not yet got to its fair share of usage, investments and focus, came into the limelight as our dependence on everything digital grew with the surge in data consumption. With ongoing stay-at-home orders in most states, high-speed broadband internet access has become a necessity to learn, study, work, buy, keep abreast, and stay connected with friends and family. 

India is working out of virtual offices, children are attending virtual classes, meetings have transpired into video conferencing calls, and events have turned into webinars- driving a massive change in digital consumption habits of millions of Indians. This surge in exchange of data has led to a significant increase in demand for wireline broadband services. 

India has been a primarily mobile internet dependent country with a big digital divide existing between urban and rural areas. Even in urban cities, the broadband infrastructure is not well developed, making the penetration low. The mobile ecosystem has over 660 million wireless subscribers compared to a mere 18 million broadband connections giving download speeds upwards of 512 Kbps. Mobile has been the go to choice for the country for a more personalised and during requirement of small quantities of data exchange while surfing, gathering information, listening to music or managing mails. 

However, since India shifted to work from home mode post the announcement of the lockdown, use of much heavier bandwidth-intensive applications and programs that require steady and consistent speed, has upped the use and enquiries for wireline broadband. With families across the country locked in, each household now has parallel high data usage requirements. Video conferences, streaming OTT services, community gaming, online school classes,— all these applications require consistent high speed and so there is no option other than a reliable internet connection. Even today, when we are at the fag end of the lockdown, the surge in demand for broadband continues to be high because of these differentiators. 

Ernst and Young study, (Report published in UK) also revealed that one-third of all households (32%) – and 43% of under-55-year-olds – have increased the amount of home working done via online collaboration tools since lockdown. Video calling has also become increasingly popular, with 36% of consumers using it for the first time since the crisis began, compared with 18% in a poll at the end of March. But with the need for reliable home internet more important than ever, home internet connectivity was a focus for consumers’ worries.

The growing demand of broadband will continue to be high because of two factors, primarily because people now have started to realise the difference between mobile internet and wireline broadband and how wireline broadband is a basic utility service that every household needs to have and the need of wireline broadband cannot be fulfilled by mobile internet. It’s not just about productivity anymore, it’s about entertainment and communication. Everybody wants it.

Secondly, many organisations have realised that productivity of employees has actually increased ever since they started working from home as they don’t have to spend hours in traffic while going to the office or coming back from office. Therefore work from home is going to stay with us and may become the first choice of many organisations. Consequently, the demand for wireline broadband will continue to be high in future as well.

However, for the broadband growth to sustain, the ecosystem needs to evolve and be more conducive for wireline internet. 

The internet infrastructure needs to move to FTTH faster than the pace it is at today. FTTH promises to unlock a slew of opportunities and applications benefiting consumers, businesses and content providers with a high two-way bandwidth capacity. 

Operating margins need to rationalize. Currently, AGR has an adverse impact on operating margins of ISPs, it is increasing costs stonewalling the growth of wireline broadband. Removing AGR can help ISPs meet the surge in demand of wireline broadband. 

And lastly, connecting to local exchanges to manage demand spikes and ensure an uninterrupted and consistent flow of speeds and data, will help expand the ecosystem by bringing down costs, ensuring speeds and scalability, and managing smooth operations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house