The merged Vodafone-Idea won't have the sum of each operator's upload speed, but their leading speeds will reinforce one another. The benefits of combining spectrum could also lead to a boost in capacity which could improve speeds further for Vodafone Idea.
By Peter Boyland
Vodafone and Idea are in the final stages of merging their Indian operations, potentially creating an upload speed powerhouse in the market. Idea recently won OpenSignal's Upload Experience award in our India Mobile Network Experience Report, with a score nearly 25% faster than its closest rival's. The operator also topped our 4G upload speed table, with a 30% faster score — and a look at 4G upload speeds across India's four main national operators over the past 10 months of 2018 shows Idea has led in this category for some time. But the other key trend to note is the second-place operator for 4G upload speed in India: Vodafone.
What's the importance of mobile upload speed? This metric is often overlooked in favor of headline-grabbing download speed, but upload is becoming increasingly important as consumer mobile habits shift. Smartphone users are moving away from downloading and consuming to uploading and creating content, meaning upload speeds are becoming more and more important to the mobile experience.
Upload speeds are typically slower than download, as current mobile broadband technologies tend to be focused on providing the best possible downstream rates for users consuming content. And in India, our analysis shows 4G upload speeds for all four operators have dropped since the start of 2018, most likely as a result of increased network congestion as data demands grow. But the combined network power of Vodafone Idea should help the merged operator overcome these challenges — allowing it to not only improve upload speeds, but also mount a serious challenge in our other mobile experience metrics.
The merger of Vodafone and Idea Cellular, announced earlier this year, has created India's biggest operator, with some 422 million subscribers across the country and plans to extend its 4G network to over 80% of Indian users. Vodafone recently announced a net loss in its six-month financial results to end-September, blaming the cost of the merger — but the U.K. giant stressed it sees the long-term synergies created as more than making up for this loss over the coming years.
The board of Vodafone Idea has also stated it was looking at raising an additional $3.5 billion (250 billion rupees) in new capital to fund expanded coverage and capacity of its 4G network and improving customer experience. The company is also examining a potential sale of fibre broadband network infrastructure in order to boost its cash levels, following a similar sale of Idea's cell tower assets earlier this year. All this extra investment should lead to an improved performance by Vodafone Idea across our mobile experience analysis, and it would be little surprise if the merged operator came top in more than just upload speed in years to come.
The merger of Vodafone and Idea means India will be paired down to four major national mobile operators once the dust settles. This is expected to signal the end of the fierce round of mergers and acquisitions in the market, which has seen some major players including RCOM, Aircel and Telenor exiting in the past year alone. It could also help ease the ferocious price war in the country, as the remaining operators seek other ways to differentiate such as service quality and content bundling, rather than continually undercutting each other.
High levels of competition and free data offerings have led to some unsustainable drops in average revenues per user (ARPU) in India, but relatively low levels of smartphone penetration and a huge customer base mean there is still a lot of room for growth in the market. And Vodafone Idea is perfectly poised to take advantage of this potential to challenge the dominance of Airtel and Jio.