Airtel is India's fastest mobile network, offering average total download speeds of 6.15Mbps, according to network coverage mapping company OpenSignal's first public report into the Indian telecommunications market.
Airtel topped both the 4G download speed and 3G download speed categories, at 11.53Mbps and 4.77Mbps, respectively, while Jio took home the 4G availability gong and Vodafone India won in the 4G latency and 3G latency categories.
OpenSignal drew on 1.3 billion measurements between December and February for the report, selecting only the mobile providers that met its nationwide criteria given the diversity of the market, which has recently seen several consolidations.
"India is one of the most complex mobile markets we have ever studied. Not only is the mobile market extremely large, but it's a highly distributed one; India is divided up into 22 telecom circles, with multiple operators licensed to operate in each. That makes it quite difficult to compare operators to one another on a national level, because not every operator is operating in every region," OpenSignal explained.
"That said, through consolidation and acquisition, several operators have recently emerged as national or near-national providers, offering either voice or mobile broadband services in the large majority of India's circles. For our national comparison, we selected the operators that were able to meet that criteria for the different mobile technologies we measure."
As such, OpenSignal chose 4G-only operator Reliance Jio, formed last year by oil and telco billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who brought further competition to the market by offering low-cost bundles; 3G-only providers Reliance Communications and the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) Mobile; and 3G and 4G services providers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, and Idea Cellular.
In terms of average 4G download speeds, Vodafone followed Airtel on 8.59Mbps; Idea on 8.34Mbps; and Jio on 3.92Mbps.
All four had only begun rolling out 4G services last year after a series of soft launches in 2015, with an OpenSignal report from earlier this year ranking India seventh from last globally in terms of 4G speeds, ahead of only Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, the Philippines, and Costa Rica. Its overall 4G speed was listed as being just 4.17Mbps; by comparison, worldwide frontrunner South Korea's overall speed was 37.54Mbps.
Vodafone also came second behind Airtel in 3G speeds, with an average of 4.3Mbps, followed by BSNL, on 3.41Mbps; Idea, on 3.37Mbps; and Reliance, on 2.63Mbps. Vodafone's overall download speed was 5.13Mbps; Idea's was 4.16Mbps; Jio's 3.92Mbps; BSNL's 3.41Mbps; and Reliance's 2.63Mbps.
The category of 4G availability, calculated by measuring the proportion of time that each network's users have a 4G signal available to them, was topped by Jio. Its score of 91.57 percent availability put it well out ahead, trailed by Idea, with 59.49 percent availability; Vodafone, with 59.05 percent; and Airtel, with 54.72 percent.
Vodafone won the latency category for both 4G and 3G, with scores of 54.27ms and 83.7ms, respectively. Idea was second in 4G, on 61.34ms latency, followed by Airtel with 63.86ms and Jio with 86.61ms. Airtel came in second for 3G latency, on 98.3ms; Idea third, on 102.9ms; BSNL fourth, on 121.9ms; and Reliance last, on 125.91ms latency.
On a regional basis, the fastest 4G download speeds in Delhi were 11.92Mbps on Airtel; 11.92Mbps in Karnataka on Airtel; 14.77Mbps in Mumbai on Airtel; and 11.45Mbps in Tamil Nadu on Airtel, closely followed by 10.85Mbps on Idea.
Regionally, 4G latency averaged 42.66ms at its fastest in Delhi on Vodafone; 57.01ms in Karnataka on Airtel, closely followed by 57.52ms on Vodafone; 50.54ms in Mumbai on Vodafone; and 42.94ms in Tamil Nadu on Airtel.
Jio had the highest availability of all networks in Delhi, Karnataka, Mumbai, and Tamil Nadu, at 61.85 percent, 61.64 percent, 60.66 percent, and 50.34 percent, respectively.
Despite its low global scores across availability, network speed, and latency, however, the Indian mobile market is set to rise rapidly; according to a Deloitte report last year, the number of mobile towers in India will double by 2020, growing from 400,000 to 1.2 million in a period of four or five years due to the high population of India.
Collocation is also tipped to increase, from 1.77 mobile operators per tower in 2014-15 to approximately 2.48 per tower by 2020.
Industry regulator TRAI last year also recommended that the government should reduce the reserve price of its 700MHz spectrum band in order to ensure that India's cash-strapped companies can afford to purchase spectrum and install more towers to improve mobile coverage across the nation.