Why 4G Adoption Is Stalled in Developing Countries Featured

Why 4G Adoption Is Stalled in Developing Countries Image Credit: style-photographs/Bigstockphoto.com

There is a big gap in many developing countries between the percentage of subscribers that have access to 4G, and those that actually choose to use it.

For example, although the mobile operator Viettel provides 4G coverage to 95% of the subscribers in Vietnam, according to the Vietnamese Minister of Information and Communication (MIC), only 5% have 4G data plans. 4G penetration in India was measured at 21% during the first quarter of 2018, even though according to OpenSignal, LTE was available to at least 65% of India’s subscribers.

This low level of adoption is surprising, considering the growing dependence on mobile devices and increasing popularity of mobile apps. In India, subscribers view more video on mobile devices than on desktops, according to YouTube. In many countries consumers don’t have credit cards or cheques, and mobile payments can be the only way to conduct financial transactions. It seems reasonable to expect subscribers will want faster response times and higher quality video viewing that is attributed to 4G.

So why are so many subscribers stuck on 3G?

4G is disappointing subscribers

Mobile operators see a quick uptake in the beginning of the month, when subscribers are eager to give the new network a try. But when it takes too long to download a file, or their video stutters, they quickly lose patience and go back to 3G. Some subscribers are aware of the huge gap in the different speeds of 4G, depending on the APAC country. Take for example, Indonesia's 4G network has download speeds of 8.6 Mbps, while in South Korea 4G has an average speed of 47.1 Mbps.  Many subscribers aren’t willing to pay for a next generation network that can’t deliver the performance they expect.

Slower speeds can be even worse during peak traffic periods. Malaysia’s 4G broadband throughput can drop to as low as 9Mbps, which is 36% below their average speeds. This is especially frustrating for users of data-heavy social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube that have expectations of high quality video viewing regardless of when they are online. Degradation of performance can also be influenced by being on the move, which is especially annoying for commuters.

Other subscribers abandon 4G when their data packages are depleted faster than expected due to the additional volume of data passing through mobile networks. Many subscribers are concerned they will run out of video view time and they aren’t prepared to view less video for the promise of smoother and faster streaming with 4G.

Keeping the promise of 4G

There are technologies that can help ensure that 4G subscribers have the quality of experience and value that they expect. 

Mobile operators can utilize network optimization techniques to provide a consistently positive user experience. Congestion in mobile internet can be minimized by streamlining and orchestrating data traffic to reduce the number of signaling messages for faster browsing and downloads and smoother video streaming with higher resolution.

Video traffic can be optimized only for those geographic areas that are experiencing a degradation in service. Radio scheduling and resource allocation mechanisms can be tweaked to enable the maximum number of applications to perform with a high quality user experience. For example a video frame that is consumed for later viewing can have a lower scheduling priority, while subscribers that make online bookings or shop online can receive a temporary boost of radio resources resulting in a better quality of experience for all subscribers.

Where there is a concern about the higher cost of 4G, customized data packages can be created to reassure subscribers that 4G won’t deplete their data plans faster. One possibility is to give subscribers the option to receive video at a lower resolution to make their data package last longer. They can select whether they want to view videos in standard definition, high definition, or have the network decide the optimal resolution to maximize video viewing time. To maintain a high quality of experience, lower pricing can be offered for browsing and downloading during slower traffic periods.

Video viewing, mobile payments, and e-commerce are trends that will only increase in developing countries as subscribers do more on their mobile devices. Optimizing networks to provide a positive user experience while providing flexible data plans to make 4G services more affordable can help encourage subscribers to take advantage of the full potential of next generation networks. This is a critical step to help subscribers advance to new technologies, considering that the next generation network, 5G, is right around the corner. 

Ofer Gottfried has more than 20 years of experience in defining and building market-leading products. He served as the Chief Technology Officer of Flash Networks prior to being appointed as its Chief Executive Officer.

Prior to Flash Networks, Ofer served as the General Manager and VP of Research and Development at NeuStar NGM, (formerly Followap), a provider of instant messaging and presence products. He also served as VP of R&D at the Internet security company V-Secure, and as CTO of Excel Switching, a supplier of development platforms for telecom applications and solutions, and General Manager and VP of R&D at Airslide prior to its merger with Excel Switching. Previously, Ofer also held several senior positions at ECI Telecom and related companies managing the development of voice compression and VoIP products for the telecom market.

Ofer holds a B.Sc. in Electronics Engineering from the Holon Academic Institute of Technology.

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