As the whole world is adjusting to the new “normal” in the era of Covid-19 and the confinement of four walls, internet has become more vital than ever. Offices and workplaces became a cozy workstation at home. Even schools, colleges and universities went online.

Business meetings have been replaced by zoom calls and video conferencing. For medical emergencies people are seeking out telemedicine and virtual consultancy. We are shopping everything online too from daily essentials to groceries and medicine.

As stuck at home Indians turn to social media, video streaming, gaming for recreation, Digital India is booming like never before. According to Internet World Stats consumption of data in Asia has increased by 50.3%.

India’s High Appetite for Internet Data In Lockdown

Before the wake of Covid-19, rural users (277 million) outnumbered urban areas (227 million) by 10 percent, and broke the digital divide that had existed earlier, in 2019. Rural India owes its explosive internet growth to rising smartphone penetration and inexpensive mobile data. The market grew new users by 18 percent as the data revolution was triggered by Reliance Jio (which launched in 2016).

Also in lockdown rural India is ahead of urban areas in data consumption rate. CSC e-Governance Services India, which holds the license to provide internet services, claims there has been a jump of almost 100 percent in data consumption in rural parts of India.

As of 03.30.20 data consumed in rural areas is 4.7 terabyte(TB) from 2.7 terabyte(TB) which was recorded on March 10. Besides that, there has also been a surge in demand for FTTH (Fiber to Home). More than 3 lakh subscribers registered across 50,000 Gram Panchayats for FTTH as of March 20.

Government sources claim mobile internet usage has increased only around 10% on average since the start of lockdown. Which is contrary to telecom companies confirmation of a 20% surge in mobile data usage on average even after video streaming apps shifted to SD format from HD, with  a far higher demand in urban areas.

Before lockdown it had been observed that while rural India had more users, urban areas held the record for higher internet usage with India’s top eight metros (population of more than five million) having maximum internet penetration of 65%.

After the Covid-19 health scare, the situation is a bit different with metros and Tier 1 cities using  3% more bandwidth than before. Whereas, small telecom circles are consuming 15% more internet than before. Reason behind that might be the huge exodus of daily-wage workers who have left for home due to lockdown.

The internet spike in different cities in India was as follows:

Rising Demand and Current Infrastructure

While demand for services continues to spike, there is increased pressure on cellular infrastructure. According to reports, in March due to strain on the networks, the mean mobile and broadband download speeds in India had fallen. And the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to the Government to request streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Zee5 to switch to a lower definition streaming, in order to ease the strain on existing networks.

Industry analysts have stated that fears of network choking are not likely to happen since there is sufficient additional capacity.  In order to meet demand, going forward, the COAI has written, vide letter dated March 20, 2020; to the Government to ease norms and expedite approvals for providing services, setting up towers and to instruct state-owned firms (MTNL and BSNL) to not terminate any interconnection points.

Covid-19 Lockdown Impact

Although Govt. has issued curfew passes for delivery of essential goods such as food, grocery medicine and maintenance services. There is a lack of  guidelines in terms of effectively keeping services running. For instance, equipment fixes are hard with parts not being sold in the market, also devices and laptops are also not available in the market. Before lockdown the demand was still there but the ability to install networks became unattainable due to movement restrictions.

Keeping Small Town India Digital

Telecommunication companies making sure that the nation remains calm and connected as we go through this battle against Covid-19.

COAI claims, some of the member operators have provided extended validity to the continuation of their services and talktime benefits for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid and are not in a position to recharge their prepaid services.

Vodafone, Idea took appreciative measures to enhance network experience and customer service via alternate channels to keep the people of Assam and North East connected. As of now it is monitoring the network to ensure optimum efficiency in the seven states and there’s field engineers available 24×7 to keep connectivity up and running. Over 650 sites in the region have been upgraded since the declaration of lockdown.

The Internet has been the epicenter of journey for Digital India. There have been several debates about how consumers and businesses face problems due to slow internet, low quality video calls and buffering in OTT platforms etc, in recent times.

Several industry experts also believe the existing telecommunication infrastructure isn't ready to meet this sudden drastic increase in data consumption. But as homebound India feasts on data, the government is confident the increased pressure can be handled. For the government the challenge lies in coverage, not capacity.