I have been following the launch of Netflix in India with interest. As an avid movie buff who frequently transits between airports with time to kill, I am eager to experience their services here. However, whether or not India will be able to fully enjoy the Netflix experience is moot. And I, for one, am a bit sceptical of the capability of India’s broadband networks to support such high-quality video-on-demand services.
Netflix and similar video entertainment services are meant to be viewed in HD and Ultra HD on typically large screens, with surround sound, creating a real-life theatre-like experience at home. To support these functionalities, the most important technology support required is that of high-speed broadband, which barely exists in India.
As per Netflix’s own standards, you need a minimum of 5 Mbps speed to enjoy their HD quality shows, rising to 25 Mbps for the ultra HD quality programmes. Clearly, these speeds are a dream in India. While India defines broadband as 512 kbps (current average speed is 1.7Mbps), for China it is 20 Mbps for the urban areas.
For the UK, broadband is 10+ Mbps and the US is moving towards a minimum of 25 Mbps.
As per the Akamai State of the Internet Q3 2015 report, India is ranked 98th, the second lowest in APAC, with only 14 per cent adopting 4 Mbps speed, and 2.3 per cent have access to 10 Mbps broadband. Only one in 800 internet subscribers has 15 Mbps or more speeds. And this data includes enterprise users, while actual home user figures are much lower.
Given Indian demographics, and the absence of high-speed broadband connectivity, it is likely that Netflix will see more traffic terminating at handhelds. But with patchy 3G coverage, leave alone ubiquitous 4G reach, this again will not be an experience that both users and Netflix will desire. With network capacity limiting accessibility for consumers due to overloaded networks, HD and Ultra HD video content is likely to remain beyond the reach of the Indian audience.
For Netflix to become a success, it is imperative that homes start getting wired back. The traditional copper wires which used to provide voice connectivity now get replaced by optical fibres.
India today has less than 100,000 homes connected with fibre and enjoying speeds of more than 10 Mbps. Such homes, in addition to Netflix-kind services, also have access to other e-education, security and e-healthcare services which are video-based and require higher bandwidth.