Indians are the world’s biggest data guzzlers

08th December 2023
Indians are the world’s biggest data guzzlers
Indians prefer to watch or listen to news on their phones rather than reading it. Photo Credit: Airtel

By Anand Parthasarathy
December 8, 2023: Some four years ago, a study by professional services leaders, PwC, for the industry association, ASSOCHAM,  noted  a striking phenomenon: the  huge appetite that Indian cell phone users were exhibiting,  for  mobile data,   with usage  predicted to grow by over 70%   in the next three years.
In June this year, Ericsson’s Mobility Report reiterated the same trend and suggested that by 2028, Indians will consume the most data in the world -- ahead of mature markets in the US, western Europe, China and South Korea.
We didn’t have to wait that long; the very next edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report released last week, found that Indians had already crossed that milestone. It states:
“Average data traffic per smartphone in India is the highest globally. It is projected to grow from 31 GB per month in 2023 to around 75 GB per month in 2029 – a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR)  of 16 percent. Total mobile data traffic is estimated to grow from 26 ExaBytes (EB) per month in 2023 to 73 EB per month in 2029, growing at a CAGR of 19 percent.”
The availability of faster 5G services has, if anything, spurred data usage among Indian  mobile phone users. A year ago,  Reliance Jio offered unlimited  data on all of  its 5G tariff plans – it could do this only because, said experts,  it had purchased  spectrum in the 700 MHz band,the only company to do so. Bharti Airtel  did  likewise. 
In the always price-sensitive Indian market,   mobile telecom players,  if they wanted to survive, could  not afford to charge a premium for 5G consumer services.  And the unlimited data plans of all service providers  spurred customers to consume even more data.  This is realistically, not a sustainable model for the industry –but in the short term this is a  buyers’ market of happy  data guzzling  consumers
 Why do Indians consume so much data
Experts have tried to understand why Indians are world champions in consuming mobile data and there have been a few explanations: 
Speaking to  The Hindu  on the release of its annual Mobile Broadband Index,  Amit Marwah, Marketing head of Nokia India, had one theory:  “This phenomenal rise in data consumption in India is driven by videos.
The availability of attractive Over The Top (OTT) monthly subscriptions, offering a jumbo diet of movies, serials and music videos in all the major Indian languages, coupled with the preference of so many customers to   take their daily diet of entertainment and ‘time pass’ on their phones rather on  television sets, explains why data consumption is so high.
And not just entertainment: The 2023 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute and Oxford University, surveying  news consumption around the world, found that in India there was a shift from traditional news sources like print and television and from news websites,  to mobile news aggregators.  Here too, there was a preference which might explain why so much mobile data was consumed: Indians liked to watch the news on their phones rather than read it
An overview of the world’s most  popular messaging apps available in the Digital Growth Report for October 2023 from,  finds that WhatsApp is by far, the most popular –  which is also true of the Indian market.
‘Mobile first’ countr
India today is a ‘mobile first’ country: three out of four, access   the Internet on their hand phones rather than on desktop PCs, laptops or tablets. Their main reason for going online?  The customer communications cloud Sinch, in its own  analysis of the  Digital Growth Report  concludes: “The three main reasons for surfing the web in India are finding information, watching videos, and finding inspiration.
Taken with the earlier finding about Indians’ predilection for viewing rather than reading, this could well mean that  we Indians prefer  to get our information and inspiration too, through  video rather than text and still images
Is there  any surprise still about why  we are the greatest  data guzzlers on the globe?

This article has appeared in Swarajya