19 January 2007

State of broadband in India

Going through GigOm, I bumped into the article which states that BSNL will be launching a 2Mbps broadband connection in the country this year. If that claim itself isn't ridiculous, they say that that the price will be Rs. 250. That's roughly $5.62, which is dirt cheap even for a government funded company. What's going on here?

Well, the catch is that one has a (terrible, I must say) download limit of 1GB a month, and use above that limit will be chargeable at 90p ($0.02) per MB. As the article at Sify rightly states:

A K Sinha, Chairman and Managing Director, BSNL added that the limit for corporate customers would be enhanced to 4GB. In other words, you can check your emails at a blazing pace considering that’s what you can do to stay within the offered download limit of 1 GB – 4 GB.

Telecom's own boom

India saw a telecom boom in the past two years, with a meteoric rise of Bharti A private company which initially launched the landline service 'Touchtel', and later moved to acquire the mobile-phone solutions company 'Airtel'. It now offers both services under the brand name of 'Airtel'., and introduction of big time players such as Reliance and Tata into the info/telecom market. Offering competitive prices for quality service, these companies quickly ran over the existing estabilished company VSNL Virtually the sole Internet provider to the country for a long time. Even now, the major companies pay a share to VSNL to use their servers to gain access to the Internet, so technically, VSNL remains the biggest Internet provider in India. completely. Now, the preferred company is Airtel for residence as well as corporate Internet solutions. I use Airtel myself, and am very happy with them. The rates and speeds are very good, with speedy complaint clearance. I have never tried Reliance, but I haven't heard good things about them either, so can't say much there. Whoever the provider however, the speed fluctuations prevent any proper productive use of the Internet Things like gaming, video-conferencing, downloading genuinly huge files. My speed is 128 Kbps, and a 600 Mb movie takes a whole night. You can imagine the rest. I'd sure love to be able to connect to a gaming server in the US to kick some butt, (I'm a CounterStrike buff! :P) but that seems a far cry at the moment.

BSNL itself has had quite a bad run uptil now. People have rushed in to take their relatively cheap plans and have come out cursing the after sales service and server downtimes. It is pretty much expected from a government company, hence this move now seems extremely ambitious.

Predictions galore

Sify predicts the year 2007 as the year of the broadband in India. I'd love to agree with them. At the moment, broadband is classified by the TRAI as any 'always-on' connected above the speed of 128 Kbps. I believe the international definition starts at 512Kbps. The scene is pretty dismal, but our lack of infrastructure, and preference being given to spread technology first to the rural areas and then to the urban parts seems to slow down the progress that we could have made. But we're slowly getting there with attempts such as this.

If nothing, this will actually push the other players to improve their services to challenge BSNL's user base. This is ofcourse, only good news for everyone (including me)! :) I'd love to see my speeds hit 512+ Kbps :D The existing monopoly lies with Airtel, so the first change will definitely come from them. An upgrade in the connection speeds will see a lot of more participation in gaming, start-ups and other Internet related stuff that the international market has gotten used to, coming from India. We don't lack the ability, just the infrastructure. Maybe even an upgrade to our technology to go for WiMAX, and make it simpler to provide fast Internet connections to remote places? WiMAX has high initial costs, but in the long run it will benefit. It also seems to be the more practical thing to go for at the moment.

Good times? Let's wait and watch, 'the year of the broadband' just got started! ;)