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    Views: What Reliance Jio’s Flip-Flop on Bandwidth Consumption by video streaming tells us

    “It is no secret that OTT [over the top] Players consume humongous amounts of bandwidth, which puts tremendous pressure on the network infrastructure established by the TSPs, without contributing an iota to this cost” Reliance Jio had said in its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s consultation on the regulation of over the top (OTT) communication services in July last year.

    And it wasn’t the only company to claim that, Bharti Airtel had claimed the same, arguing that its network “is getting choked [emphasis ours] with ever-increasing high bandwidth usage by services such as HD videos, movie streaming, high-quality web conferencing, etc.”

    Now, imagine the surprise, when Jio recently said this:

    “Cellular mobile networks have sufficient capacities to handle the video traffic. In fact, [the] majority of the traffic being handled by telecom networks (i.e. around 80%) is video traffic only.”

    This comment came in response to yet another TRAI consultation. This one, however, was on the National Broadcasting Policy. Jio was making this comment in the context of direct-to-mobile (D2M) technology, which is a technology that would allow the transmission of video content to people’s mobile phones without an active internet connection.

    In January this year, the Indian government announced its plans to roll out D2M technology in India to use it to provide digital streaming to a large chunk of the population that is still using 3G services. Pilot projects for the same are expected to be initiated in 19 cities across the country. According to a report by the Business Standard, Information and Broadcasting Secretary Apurva Chandra said that this technology could reduce the stress on telecom networks resulting from India’s burgeoning mobile data consumption.

    Jio, on the other hand, is essentially arguing that there is no need for D2M to de-congest telcos networks. It explains that after the launch of 5G, telcos have built sufficient capacity on their networks to handle video traffic even in worst-case scenarios, that is, when all subscribers are simultaneously watching video content in good quality. It further adds that D2M would not be a complementary service to online video streaming, but would rather compete with it.

    But what is the real reason behind Jio’s anti-D2M stance?

    The proposed D2M technology would operate in sub-GHz band (526 MHz-582 MHz), which, is currently used by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, along with many analog, and digital terrestrial TV transmitters. According to an ET report, Prasar Bharati has urged TRAI that this spectrum band should not be auctioned, stating that the airwaves in this band are necessary for existing services, for expanding services, and modernization of services.

    In its submission for the broadcast policy, Jio says that this band of spectrum ” has excellent propagation characteristics and can be extremely valuable to telecommunication services providers to add capacities to their mobile networks.” The company mentioned that all claims of D2M decongesting telcos networks ” are being put forward to acquire spectrum free of cost and provide the mobile services without [the] requisite license.”

    It says that to ensure that a level playing field is maintained between the D2Ms and telcos, the spectrum for D2M services must be allocated by auctioning it in a technology and “service-neutral” manner. “The successful bidder must be able to use this spectrum for providing any service using any technology,” it suggests. This tells us that Jio’s flip-flopping on network capacity is more closely aligned with business interests than with technological realities.

    Is there really a need for D2M?

    To be fair, we don’t necessarily disagree with Jio when it comes to the fact that there is no need for D2M. As our editor, Nikhil Pahwa has pointed out in the past, “the solution to get these people on 3G better entertainment or better connectivity is to switch them to 4G.” It must be noted here that Reliance Jio has previously argued the government should “come out with a policy and glidepath for closing down the 2G and 3G networks completely so that unnecessary network costs should be avoided, and all customers can be migrated to 4G and 5G services.”

    Another telco, Vodafone Idea, has notably been shutting down its 3G services. As of its earnings call for the previous quarter (third quarter of 2024), the company has shut down 3G services in five circles Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mumbai, and Kolkata by refarming the spectrum in these circles to 4G. The company said that it expects to be able to close down its entire 3G network by the next financial year as the number of 3G handsets on the network come down further. This makes us question: If people using 3G are on the decline, why create a service that specifically caters to them?

    Pahwa also mentioned that most devices don’t support D2M, and while the government can mandate that mobiles come with the chipsets necessary to support D2M, doing that would invariably increase the price of the device. “How exactly do you intend to serve underserved people, who can’t afford 4G handsets, with more expensive handsets?” Pahwa questioned.

    You can watch this video to learn more about D2M, and the issues attached with implementing it. 

    So if D2M is redundant, why should you care about this?

    Well, the reason why you should care (and why we care) about this is that it reflects that Jio is backtracking from its previous stance, where it had argued that OTTs cause traffic and costs on networks, and should as such contribute to telcos. However, it is now telling us that telcos do indeed have the capacity to handle video traffic. This changed stance on video content points to a major flaw in the argument that was previously being made about network usage fees.

    Net neutrality advocates, like Barbara Van Schewick, have previously pointed out that networking equipment gets faster, cheaper, and more powerful every year. “Routers handle more traffic with less cost, high capacity fiber gets cheaper, and software-defined networking makes everything more efficient. Simultaneously, new network protocols like 5G drastically expand network capacity,” Van Schewick had argued in her submission to TRAI for the consultation on OTT communication services. She gave the example of a 2021 investor call conducted by Vodafone Idea where the company admitted that while traffic had risen significantly from 2017 to 2021, the cost of moving that data had fallen even faster.

    Even though the consultation has ended, TRAI has yet to release any recommendations based on it. With Jio now contradicting its previous stance, net neutrality activists’ arguments gain more weight, potentially impacting TRAI’s eventual recommendations on OTT communication services.

    Also read:

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    The post Views: What Reliance Jio’s Flip-Flop on Bandwidth Consumption by video streaming tells us appeared first on MediaNama.

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