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Do you run a 5G speed test? Your phone data may be gone in seconds

Social media platforms such as Twitter are proliferating as Indian users post screenshots of tests showing high speeds under 5G but complaining that their data packages have been exhausted after running too many speed tests. This is because, with each test run, the app takes about 700-800MB of data – or about half of your usual daily data limits – to measure sustained download speed for 15-20 seconds.

For example, Mumbai user Gaurav Hasnabis complained about high data consumption in gaming, social media, and streaming apps even though his usage patterns remained the same. For example, 10 minutes of browsing Instagram on 5G consumed 207MB of data, while on 4G it was about 120MB.

That’s because these apps, and others like them, download content at a higher quality in areas with broad 5G coverage. Once metaverse apps, cloud gaming, and 4K and 8K streaming come into the picture, data consumption will increase even further, an industry executive said.

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

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

Operators are expected to come up with specific plans for 5G once coverage is expanded to most parts of India, said an industry executive familiar with the matter. Vodafone Idea has not started providing 5G services yet.

“Telecom companies expect data usage to rise at least 2.5 times, if not more, to around 40-50GB, once they start becoming a consumer of 5G,” said a telecom industry executive. He pointed out that data consumption in the fourth generation era is about 17 gigabytes per user per month, compared to 300 megabytes in the third generation 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 expected to account for nearly 40 percent of mobile subscriptions.

In markets where 5G networks already operate with large user bases, such as the United States and South Korea, data consumption has already increased by up to 2.7 times, 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, communications analyst at Ernst and Young, said the sudden increase in data consumption will be a learning exercise for consumers who need to learn how to control data usage by turning off nonessential items on their devices.

An analyst at a multinational brokerage firm, who wished to remain anonymous, added that in the initial phase, telecom companies may allow users to exhaust their data packages faster to encourage them to buy more data, and prepare them to increase the costs of using 5G services.

And with data consumption rising in the 5G era, carriers may see average revenue per user (ARPU) rise over time, Singhal said. The average ARPU in the industry is now around Rs 165.

Bharti Airtel has launched 5G services in eight cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Varanasi and Siliguri. Jio pilot trials are underway in New Delhi, Nathdwara, Varanasi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bengaluru.

Airtel said its 5G service will start in all major 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 major metros by December 2022 and cover pan India by the end of 2023.

Amidst 5G rollouts, a survey by Electronic Media Research (CMR) shows that young Indians want a better experience by using higher specifications for content creation, consumption and gaming. This is one of the drivers for shipments of premium smartphones priced between Rs 25,000-30,000 up 9% year-on-year in the third quarter ended September, while the range of uber-premium smartphones priced between Rs 50,000-1,00,000 jumped by 39% over the year, CMR said.

The 5G phone user base, although still in its infancy, has been rising strongly every quarter. 5G smartphone shipments in the third quarter grew 30% year-on-year in the quarter ending September 2022. Most of the Chinese mobile phone brands, which make up nearly 85% of the market, have rolled out updates to support 5G networks in India.