The other day, I saw this TV ad from Airtel claiming it was ‘officially’ India’s fastest 4G network. The speed was tested on Ookla, whose speedtest.net (website and app) is widely used all over the world.
The ad was obviously a dig by Airtel at its competitor, Jio. In fact, a complaint of misleading advertising has been filed by Jio against Airtel for this very ad.
Since I use Jio and have a spare Airtel SIM, I decided to test the two networks for myself, on speedtest.net. And compare results on an alternate speed test site, fast.com. Here’s what I found.
Airtel clocked 9.88Mbps on speedtest but only 3.1Mbps on fast.com.
Jio clocked 7.1Mbps on both speedtest.net and on fast.com
Okay, this was just a random test, done by an amateur. But that 9.88Mbps higher speed on speedtest.net for Airtel is a reminder of the old saying - there’s no smoke without a fire.
This wasn’t the first time I had an issue with Ookla. In fact, I find that using speedtest.net usually raises questions, instead of answers.
Take the time I installed ACT Fibernet at my house. I had signed up for their 40Mbps broadband plan (75GB cap at ₹1206/month). The engineer who was installing the system verified the speed for me with a check on Ookla’s speedtest.net which indicated a speed of 42.59Mbps.
I tested it myself on my phone and that’s when I noticed that speedtest.net was doing the test on a server hosted by ‘ACT Fibernet.’ It seemed to me a case of ‘Accused’ and ‘Judge’ being the same person. So I quietly did a second test on fast.com, and found the speed to be 15Mbps.
On seeing the result, the engineer got a bit defensive, and said he had never heard of fast.com. So I asked him if he heard of Netflix, and he nodded, and I informed him that fast.com belonged to Netflix.
At this, he went all techy on me, and told me speeds vary according to distance of my house from the speedtest server, and fast.com must be far away. He also said download speed for a file will be a lot less than streaming speed, and the international norm is to rate speed on streaming. he talked about bytes and bits and kpbs and kilobits, all of which went over my head.
What I did understand was speed test on speedtest.net depends on the server. So I tried changing to another nearby server at the same distance (3km from my house). This time, the speed dropped even lower to 6.64Mbps. The engineer gave me some new excuse.
But speedtest.net had just lost a fan.
Officials question ‘Officially’
Going back to Airtel’s fastest network claim, there was another twist.
TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) said their own data showed that Jio’s speed is twice as fast as Airtel. In fact, the whole ‘officially India’s fastest 4G network’ sounds fishy as Ookla is not recognised by TRAI.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has also found the Ookla ad to be misleading, and has asked Airtel to modify or withdraw the commercial by 11 April. Airtel has protested this, and ASCI has said they will give them a hearing. Which is where matters currently stand.
So what’s the big deal? This is just marketing warfare, and all’s fair in love and war, right?
Well, there’s a bit more to it, and that’s the bit that concerns me. While I was doing all this testing, Airtel quietly picked my pocket.
The Airtel SIM that I was using is a prepaid one with ₹300 loaded on it as talktime. The speedtests quietly used up around 20Mb, before Airtel messaged me that my balance was down to ₹200. (Airtel charges extraordinary high rates for data used without a data pack, and your talktime balance can disappear in a matter of minutes). I quickly loaded a small 3G data pack of 120MB for ₹28. That 120MB too was wiped out in no time by the remaining speed tests.
In five minutes, Airtel had swiped ₹128 from me.
What about Jio? I have a ₹303 pack that gives me 1GB per day, every day for the next 3 months. If I cross the 1GB limit, my speed is throttled but I’m still not charged anything. All those speed tests cost me nothing extra.
Just because most networks do what Airtel did, does not make it right. And then there’s Airtel’s crafty use of the ethically-challenged speedtest.net to fool customers into believing Airtel has the fastest network.
As the old marketing saying goes, the customer is not a fool; she’s your wife. Having said that I don’t really care if Airtel is marginally faster than Jio, or vice versa.
But what I do care is that I can’t let my guard down when I’m using Airtel. As they are likely to whack my undies if I don’t keep an eye on them.
No such issues with Jio.
I quietly removed the Airtel SIM from my phone.
End of story.