Covid impact: Rural India beats urban in mobile data usage

Kolkata | New Delhi: Rural India trumped urban areas in mobile data usage after the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown caused a shift in consumption patterns as migrant workers returned to their villages and rapidly used up their data allowances, senior industry executives and analysts said.

Although 60-70% of the migrants have returned to the cities after lockdown curbs were eased in the second quarter, rural mobile data consumption grew upwards of 30% sequentially in the April-September period compared with 15-20% for urban areas, contributing strongly to overall data usage levels.

This was also spurred by the country’s top two telcos – Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel – expanding their rural mobile user bases in recent months.


Big Surge Post Lockdown

Overall rural wireless broadband availability has wideed too. As a result, rural consumption now accounts for roughly 45% of overall mobile data usage and urban usage makes up 55%, compared with a 40:60 ratio before the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Post-lockdowns, rural mobile data usage for the Big 3 telcos grew by 30-35% sequentially in the June quarter, which was much sharper than the estimated 15-20% rise in urban data usage,” a top telco executive told ET. He added that the data usage pattern was similar in the July-September quarter.

Comparatively, he said, rural mobile data usage had grown by an estimated 5-7% sequentially in April-June of 2019.

In contrast, rural voice minutes usage fell 5% sequentially in the June quarter as the volume of urban-to-rural voice calls dropped as migrant workers went home, according to estimates by Rajiv Sharma, research head at SBICap Securities.

At press time, Airtel, Jio and Vi had not replied to ET’s queries.

A combination of a growing rural user base and greater wireless internet availability along with low-cost data have complemented surging data usage levels in rural India.

Latest data put out by the telecom regulator shows Jio and Airtel added 2.76 million and 1.47 million rural mobile users, respectively, between June and August, and a clear majority are reckoned to have gone 4G. Vodafone Idea (Vi), despite losing customers, retains a sizeable rural mobile user base that makes up about 54% of its total customer base.

“Growth in rural mobile data consumption is reflected in the 400 basis points (bps) jump in rural wireless internet penetration to 33% between end-December 2019 and end-June 2020,” said Isha Chowdhary, director and telecoms expert at Crisil.

Robust rural data usage boosted overall data consumption, which recorded the highest-ever growth of over 41% on year in the June quarter to 25,369 billion MB, said ICICI Securities. It added that overall data usage grew 11% against low single-digit growth in the preceding quarters.

Crisil estimated overall data usage growth will continue at 30-40% throughout FY21.

Covid impact: Rural India beats urban in mobile data usage Covid impact: Rural India beats urban in mobile data usage Reviewed by TechCO on 11/17/2020 Rating: 5

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