Jio 5G vs Airtel 5G: My experience with 5G networks in various Indian cities

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When Indian carriers launched 5G services in India, I was hopeful and excited about the next revolution in wireless communication in the country. Since October, both Jio and Airtel have aggressively deployed their 5G networks in various parts of India, covering around 180 cities till date. This is an achievement compared to the way 4G networks were launched nearly a decade ago. And as someone who was about to experience 5G, I had high hopes. In anticipation that, for the first time, a mobile network could offer speeds practically only possible through a broadband connection, I somehow overlooked the downsides and I didn’t care.

Over the last few weeks, I used both Airtel and Jio in different cities as I was travelling. I covered over 15 cities in North, East and Northeast India during my entire trip, so naturally, I had access to both carriers’ 5G networks in eligible cities. While Jio currently offers its 5G network in over 180 cities, Airtel is slightly behind. The first time I used 5G on my phone, I was in the National Capital Region. Sitting on my sofa in my apartment, I surprisingly found my phone showing ‘5G’ for my Airtel number and I immediately tried it.

The Airtel 5G Plus network speed in my flat was around 200Mbps – much higher than what Airtel 4G (70Mbps) usually does. The speed fluctuated a lot, but this was not a sensible observation. Latency was sufficiently low, so for me to use 5G for streaming and playing games. But Jio’s 5G network was not widely available during that time. Jio was still in the process of officially deploying the 5G network, and even if the network was available, I didn’t get an invite for the welcome offer. Jio says that its unlimited 5G data will be given to the users along with the welcome offer and it requires eligibility.

Then I moved to Lucknow, where Airtel had launched 5G, but Jio’s 5G network was unofficially not available. Airtel speed remained more or less the same in the capital of Uttar Pradesh. I am glad that Airtel’s network did not drop at all and indoor connectivity on 5G was good. After Lucknow, I continued my journey and reached Siliguri in West Bengal – a city that was one of the first to roll out Airtel’s 5G network. But in Siliguri, Airtel 5G Plus was sporadically available when I reached there. But in the next few days, the network improved and I started getting 5G network inside the house. The speed was not that much here. Still, the speed was higher than what I was getting on Airtel 4G earlier. Jio was once again not available in Siliguri during my stay.

After Siliguri, I made a stop at Guwahati – the largest city in Assam and Northeast India. Once again, only Airtel 5G Plus was available and Jio was yet to roll out its 5G network there. I found Airtel’s 5G network to be the most stable in Guwahati. My phone almost never switches to 4G, whether indoors or out. And the speed was around 300Mbps, which was fast enough for streaming and playing games. After a few days, I left Guwahati and reached Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Neither Airtel nor Jio was officially offering 5G services in Shillong when I reached there, but Airtel announced the rollout a few days later. The 5G network in Shillong was initially limited to populated areas, so the 5G network was almost non-existent in the place where I was staying. But in areas where the Airtel 5G Plus was available, the speeds were great. Airtel 5G clocked speeds of over 600Mbps in Shillong – the best ever. Jio, again, was not available for my experience.

From Shillong, I reached my hometown, Kanpur – the largest city of Uttar Pradesh and its commercial capital. By the time I reached, both Jio and Airtel had already launched their 5G services in Kanpur. However, Airtel’s 5G network was not widely available here. Instead, Jio had the upper hand in terms of coverage. Airtel’s 5G speeds peaked at 500Mbps in key areas, but even though Jio 5G was available, I couldn’t use it because I wasn’t invited to the welcome offer. A few days later, I received an invite from Jio and the phone displayed 5G for the Jio network for the first time for me. And that’s where I realized how fast Jio was. At one point, Jio True 5G speeds were said to reach 2.2Gbps, which is phenomenal. But this is not the whole picture.

Although Jio’s 5G speeds were dramatically higher than those of Airtel 5G, the stability was not even half as good. Jio’s network kept flipping back and forth between 4G and 5G, and because of that, I experienced issues with basic things like sending WhatsApp messages. Even inside the house, Jio’s 5G network was very weak and I used to face a lot of problems due to this. Since Jio is currently offering unlimited data as a part of the welcome offer, I enabled auto-update for mobile apps and set some Netflix shows for download, only to find out later that Jio has Switched back to 4G network and lost all my data because of that. Airtel, on the other hand, remained stable despite a slight slowdown in momentum.

It would be unfair to give up on any of these networks for their 5G rollout just yet as both Airtel and Jio are still in the process of 5G deployment. Hence, their 5G services are not reliable at the moment and there is room for improvement.

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