Free 4G means Jio users have little need for Wifi

It’s only been a few months since Reliance Jio launched its new LTE-only mobile service in India, but it’s already causing quite the stir. Jio has tapped into a pent-up demand for inexpensive mobile data services, not just by offering extremely cheap plans, but also by throwing out an introductory offer that includes free 4G data for the remainder of 2016. It’s since extended that deal into the beginning of 2017, though it will begin limiting customers to 1 GB a day.

As you might imagine, that offer has had a big impact. Since September it has signed up 50 million customers and has triggered a price war among India’s established mobile operators. At OpenSignal, we first caught sight of Jio’s LTE network in February (when Jio trial users started downloading OpenSignal’s test app), and since then more than 70,000 Jio smartphone users have joined the OpenSignal community, running millions of 4G availability, speed and latency tests. We plan on examining Jio’s performance — along with those of India’s many other operators — in a report sometime in the future, but we thought it would be interesting to point out one particularly interesting trend we’ve already noticed among Jio subscribers: a very low usage of Wifi.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Arian Zwegers

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Arian Zwegers

Along with tracking the performance of their chosen mobile networks, our users also collect data on the Wifi connections they make with their smartphones. Wifi has become an important mobile technology in much of the world. Our recent Global State of Mobile Networks report shows that in 46 countries smartphone users spend more time connected to Wifi than they do to mobile data networks like 3G and 4G. But that’s not the case for Jio users, who almost seem to be deliberately shunning Wifi. Looking at our data from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 (the three months in which Jio has been available to the widespread public), Jio users connected to Wifi networks on average 8.2% of the time. That’s well below India’s 29.8% average time on Wifi from our global report. Here’s how the major operators in India compared in Wifi usage:

Time on Wifi by operator

  • Jio                  8.2%
  • Idea               24.1%
  • Telenor          24.3%
  • Aircel            24.9%
  • Airtel             27.1%
  • Reliance        28.1%
  • Tata DoCoMo 30.4%
  • BSNL             31.1%
  • Vodafone      31.3%

So why is Jio’s number so low? There’s no way to say for certain, but there are a few likely explanations. One of the biggest drivers of Wifi usage on the smartphones is the cost of the mobile data. If you have an expensive data plan, you tend to look for cheaper connections to offset your mobile bill and in most cases Wifi is just the ticket. But what if you get 4 GBs of 4G data daily for no additional charge as Jio users now receive? There’s not much incentive to seek out a Wifi link.

Another big factor in encouraging smartphone usage is performance. Everything being equal, people tend to gravitate toward the fastest connections as services like video streaming perform better on high-bandwidth links. When confronted with slow 2G or 3G data connections, smartphone users will hunt for Wifi to improve their data experience. But in Jio’s case it has no 2G or 3G networks. Also, Wifi is only good as the broadband link that serves it, and India’s average broadband speeds are the slowest in Asia. Since Jio’s users are by default contending with 4G networks only, they have little incentive to seek out Wifi, especially if those Wifi connections might turn out slower than LTE.

Whatever the reason, Jio’s users see little reason to seek out Wifi connections today. It will be interesting to see if that mindset changes once Jio’s free-4G promotion expires in March.

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