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Do we have to live with a slow internet?

February 4, 2008

If anyone asks me about my internet connection I say I have a slow one…I don’t mention whether it’s broadband or dial-up. Actually I have both, MTNL Broadband and a VSNL dial-up…but if I am writing a post or an email I often switch to dial-up as it’s more reliable. Yes, it’s excruciatingly slow (max 44-48 kbps, but usually less than 40) and the connection often hangs…but it doesn’t get disrupted. As for the Broadband that I have, it’s never been at it’s maximum ever and seems to be operate at half it’s speed most of the time but worse, it’s intermittent…I’ve heard Airtel is better but we don’t get it in our area.

You can check the speed of your internet connection here.

India’s definition of broadband
India’s defines Broadband differently from the rest of the world. Broadband here means a connection that’s at a minimum of 256 kbps (usually around 100-150) and a maximum of 2mbps. Here’s a comparison with the rest of the world:

broadband-comparisions.gif

The 2-mbps connection here is more expensive than in other countries. Another comparison:

expensive.gif

The recent disruption of undersea cables
The breakdown in an inter-nation undersea cable network near Egypt last week has made things worse. India apparently had to suffer a 50-60 percent cut in bandwidth. But yesterday I read more bad news. Another undersea Internet cable was damaged in the Middle East, in addition to the two other lines cut earlier. This time the Internet Service Providers’ Association, is saying that it’s going to affect capacity…but at the same time they are saying everything is under control!

What’s the future for India?
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has promised that the definition of broadband will change (to a higher speed). The need for investment is being felt keenly as the demand for the internet in small towns is rising beyond anyone’s expectations.

Poor connectivity has affected not just call centers, but also e-learning, e-shopping, telemedicine and e-governance. Not to mention the gaming business.

But laying optic fibre cable is a high investment business…and companies are preferring to invest in mobile infrastructure, which is far cheaper and gives quicker returns. It’s a long journey ahead for India…

Future of the internet in the world
There are various opinions on this.
1. A Pew survey of internet leaders, activists, and analysts shows that a majority believe that the internet will create an increasingly flat world.

2. There are those who are seriously worried about the ability of the internet to sustain itself. In December 2007 Eurescon wrote about a possibility of an impending slow-down or internet crash in Europe by 2010 due to “ignoring the limits of today’s internet”.

3. Early last year Google warned that the “growth in video downloads could create an internet traffic jam.” In fact there were reports last year of user experience in downloading videos having decreased.

4. A Nemertes research report published last year “on the ability of Internet infrastructure to cope with burgeoning demand, warns that usage could outstrip network capacity both in North America and worldwide as early as 2010.” This study has been a first of it’s kind and estimates that a global investment of $137 billion is required to improve broadband access, just to stop services declining.

In the U.S. alone it’s predicted that 42 billion to $55 billion is needed to match demand with capacity and this figure is in addition to the $72 billion service providers are already planning to invest.

Today people use bandwidth not just for videos, but also for voice, streaming and interactive video. Mobiles using internet are adding to the burden.

So does this mean that the internet could simply crash one fine day? Not everyone thinks so

5. The Save the Internet Blog says that Internet companies want money and control and research such as the above is motivated.

6. The latest on this was sent to me by Axinia, at the right time, when I was already penning this post. It is an article written by a British journalist Johann Hari just a few days ago and he predicts some dark days ahead.

pc.jpgThe massive corporations that provide broadband own the physical highways of the internet: the wires and cables and switches along which web pages travel before they hit your screen. They have been lobbying in the US and Europe for permission to turn this into a two-lane motorway, with different speeds according to how much you can pay.

So if you pay a lot, you get the speed you want, but if you are an unknown blogger, go get stuck in a traffic jam! I guess we in India are lucky, because we are used to it!

This two lane highway may never come into existence as resistance is expected, particularly from people who lean to the left, like Hari himself. This is what he says:

johann-hari.jpgAs the internet reshapes our minds and souls in ways we are only beginning to comprehend, we have to fight to keep it equally open to everyone. Otherwise, Tomorrow’s World will become a corporate-controlled world, with inequality built into the cables that connect us all.

I am not sure whether Hari’s dream can work though. Someone’s got to pay.

(Tables are from Business World, the photo of the PC is by me and the photo of Johann Hari is from the BBC)

Related Reading: Internet Advertising to grow in India
High growth in PC ownership in India
E-shopping in India on the upswing
Internet marriage bureaus thriving in India
India’s Internet woes

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2008 11:17 am

    I had typed out my whole comment, but as usual, clumsy ol me, did something to erase it all off.

    Anyway, I wanted to add, that India finds itself in a highly beneficial position owing to a large population density in its cities and towns. This was the reason a conglomerate, along with the Chandra Babu Naidu government of AP, were to set-up a project for low-cost, high speed internet in Hyd. I don’t know what has come of that plan since then.

    Anyway, the fact remains, that Internet in India has more problems that it can handle. Again, government policy does not help, but neither does the lack of PC penetration. Obviously that is not the entire problem!

    http://www.tenet.res.in/Papers/unleash.html

    http://asia.cnet.com/blogs/technologywalla/post.htm?id=63000078

    http://www.isoc.org/inet99/proceedings/3a/3a_3.htm

  2. February 4, 2008 11:48 am

    @ Nita: The tone of the discussion on the last point – net neutrality – in the US is markedly different from and more aggressive than that elsewhere in the world. In fact some sort of lack of neutrality is already seen in that the content hosted by a internet access provider is served up faster than other content. Vint Cerf’s view is that IP was designed to be neutral, but there are plenty of players in the telecomms industry who do not care what IP was designed for!

    Interestingly Vint has been at Google for 2-3 years and Google’s web accelerator offering as well as their free wireless internet provisioning in some areas of Silicon Valley are both worth a mention. They clearly are on the side of network neutrality whereas many others are not.

    Link: webaccelerator.google.com

    This issue will shape the future of the internet whether we like it or not.

  3. February 4, 2008 12:19 pm

    For a change :) this is bit technical stuff here, good work Nita :) .
    As far as speeds are concerned most the speed advertised are theoratical speeds but what u get actually is bit different.
    There are lot of site which can measure yr real speed.

    As far as broadband i concerned In India at stage 256 Kbps is non as broadband, Rajesh Jain at emergic.org wrote about it 2 years back. I don’t know if it is still the case case.
    I firmly believe in this century network of cables running data over high speed is a infrastructure which is needed for a country to grow. It is same as getting the roads, bridges, rail networks in 20th century. Today’s service based economy (where data is diagital) moves data on these (optical, copper, wireless) networks.
    Unfortunately India is still working on needs of 19-20 Century whereas not only we need wider roads, bridges, faster rail network but for 22 century we need network of faster data, otherwise the knowledge economy which we are becoming will be doomed or overtaken by Korea, Japan and China. Destiny is in our hands and we need some serious investment here. Everthig is getting digtized so, lets build the lifelines of 22 century – broadband network.

  4. February 4, 2008 1:57 pm

    DD, true there is the advantage of clusters, but right now the telecom cos in India are busy putting up the mobile telephone infrastructure which too has some way to go. This is cheaper to put up and more profitable. I think once this is in place then the priority will shift to optic fibre. In India everything seems to be happening at the same time and everything is dependent on the private sector. Btw, it’s not demand that is lacking. There are huge queues for internet connections!!

    Shefaly, glad you mentioned this point. I think the next couple of years will give us an idea of the direction we are taking!

    Vishal, I am not bad at numbers you know, was pretty good at it in school! And I find technology quite fascinating and am trying to learn as much as I can. The problem is a lack of time. and yes here 256kbps is still considered broadband, sadly!
    I agree with you on the last point completely. In fact the economic results of improving our e-infrastructure will be far faster than results from improving the physical infrastructure. Some say the time lag between the beneficial effects of physical infrastructure and economic benefits can be 5-10 years but in the case of the e-infrastructure, it can be a couple of years at the most!

  5. krenim permalink
    February 4, 2008 3:54 pm

    greetings! :)

    well a much simpler way would be to go all wireless,it works something like this the govt doesn’t auction licenses it does something known as a beauty contest i.e hands out bandwidth for 3 G for the greater social good(the benefit to society from faster bandwidth far outweighs anything it can get out of an auction and prevents a few with deep pockets from cornering the market) effectively jumpstarting the market,I trust the fiercely competetive indian telecom providers who charge the lowest call rates and from what I hear fairly good voice quality to take it from there as it effectively piggybacks on their existing telecom infrastructure,effective speeds here in the UK are 8Mbps and can go up to 100MBps(if you can figure out what to do with it).

    This is one infrastructure that costs ‘nothing’ to build to the state if done properly..

    my 2 cents

  6. February 4, 2008 4:11 pm

    I have this 8 MBPS Airtel connection, but it just seems to be marginally faster than my old BSNL 2 MBPS connection. I am paying only 1200 bucks, so I don’t know how you pay 3000 bucks for it.

  7. February 4, 2008 4:18 pm

    @ R-Doc: The speeds are specified as ‘up to’ not ‘equal to’ in the contracts. If it is a fixed line broadband connect, your actual speed is a complex function of your distance from the telephone exchange, the distance between where the wire enters your house and where you connect your router, and how many people also on the same exchange are online. So it is not surprising that you get slower speeds than advertised.

    I am on an ‘up to 8Meg’ connection but I get between 3.6 and 5.8 Meg depending on time of day. I am barely 5 min on foot away from the exchange but all houses in my neighbourhood are on broadband so this compromise is inevitable.

  8. February 4, 2008 5:13 pm

    Krenim, well, that is an idea but our govt is unlikely to even consider it! They want the pvt sector to so anything which costs money and they want to take over companies which are already making money! :)

    Rdoc, Airtel is available only in pockets. In Mumbai it is available in not even half of the suburbs. and yes it’s the cheapest I believe. I wish I could get Airtel, but anyway you are saying the connection is not as fast as it says. MTNL charges more and they don’t have this 8mbps. :(

  9. February 4, 2008 5:44 pm

    @shefaly @Nita,
    If broadband is via DSL or ADSL (ie copper lines) than the distance from the exchange plays a big role.
    If it is via fiber then their are no issues.
    Problem with India is Optical and Copper are very costly.

    Two options –
    1. Wireless Mesh and Wimax which is promising
    2. BPL – broadband over power lines – is being trialled in various parts of the world (US, and NZ). In India we can use it effectively because the electric rail network we have os enormous. Why not use what we already have

    On Wirless Mesh – Dharamsala in HP is doing great stuff.
    tibtec.org
    tibtec.org
    There you go talking about innovation and working in limited resources. No better example than this

  10. Raj permalink
    February 4, 2008 5:59 pm

    Nita,

    Thanks for writing this post.I am quite surprised to find that you are not satisfied with MTNL’s broadband service since I am actually quite delighted with that of its sister company.

    I used to have serious headaches with dial-up connections of different ISPs (not to mention huge telephone bills :-( ) till aDSL technology was rolled out.It came as a godsend!No disconnections,no need to dial-up with that irritating sound,maximum utilisation of the humble copper cable,simultaneous use of the telephone and the internet,the ability to be always online without worrying about telephone bills,the ability to download massive files rapidly,the ability to have multiple connections on the same line with a single modem-cum-router,a very reliable connection,no need for extra cables,………..and all this with a downstream speed of 256 kbps upto 2 Mbps (I actually get between 1.5 and 1.75 Mbps) even though I am located at a distance from the exchange……..and best of all a starting price tag of only Rs.250 per month………..to put it simply,aDSL has managed to put a smile on my face :-)

    I must not get carried away as I realise that we are still way behind the “first world”.But aDSL is a good first step in that direction.Maybe we can catch up with other countries once the next generation technologies are rolled out.I am personally waiting for Wi-Max to be rolled out on a large scale.

    And speaking of internet speeds and their comparison,please do check out this site

    http://www.speedtest.net

    where we can test the speed with respect to the nearest location and also compare our internet speed (and that of our ISP) with those of others in our locality,city,state,country and continent.It will give us a good idea of where we stand in the world.

    P.S.: I do not know about other cities but in mine,people are not satisfied with Airtel broadband.

  11. February 4, 2008 6:28 pm

    Vishal, thanks for that expert opinion. :)

    Raj, I used the link that you have and this was my connection speed here. But right now the connection is working at it’s best. I don’t have a 2mbps connection btw, but am planning to get one. The reason why we haven’t is because the MTNL works half-heartedly. This morning for instance it was working very intermittently and some days it doesn’t work for a couple of hours at a time. That is why we felt getting a 2mbps connection and paying double is not worth it. Perhaps we are very far inside, that must be the problem.
    Also I have heard of the Airtel problems.

    Shefaly, you are lucky to have that fast a connection! It must be saving so much time.

  12. February 4, 2008 6:35 pm

    @Nita,

    I thought u would find the initiative at dharamsala as a hope of something new

  13. February 4, 2008 6:53 pm

    I think, we need something like what happened in the mobile phone services industry.. there were very less number of players, who charged heavy on incoming and outgoing calls, and enjoyed high profits, then they deserver.. and I would say, with Reliance entering the market, things started changing and we are at what we are now.

    Internet and Broadband are considered luxury here still… or we are made to believe that… so that it could stay costly… we need competition, we need change in the approach.. we should understand how important it is for our growth.. otherwise, it will be like, planning to open a IT company in a remote village without water and road… :)

  14. February 4, 2008 7:01 pm

    @dinsan – Telco is a risky business in the sense it takes a lot of investment and time before you get ROI. To get services their has to be lot of reliable hardware and software and its a low margin business. It thrives on bulk users which india has, but needs infrastructure and purchasing capacity of mass. Both will take some time to be realized where we will see more investments.

  15. February 4, 2008 7:09 pm

    I can forgive them for the speed, but give me a connection first .. please.
    I wish atleast BSNL would reduce the wait time to get new broadband connections.
    I remember a time when we had to wait for years (5 and more) to get a telephone connection. That has changed now.
    But now the case with broadband is similar. We have applied for a broadband connection (BSNL.. thats the only one around our place) back home in kerala and its more than 5 months now. :(

  16. February 4, 2008 9:13 pm

    As you know, internet speed is really commodity in the west. The day our government buys more communication lines, our national quota of internet bandwidth, consequently the local speeds will rise. The IT sector boomed in India because it is a sector that required minimum government intervention (compared to manufacturing). I cannot but smile thinking about the wonders that fast internet connectivity can bring to our country esp rural areas. Reminds me of CK Prahlad’s paper, I’ll search the link. Thanks for the report Nita :)

  17. Raj permalink
    February 4, 2008 9:56 pm

    Nita,

    I am sorry to hear of your problems with MTNL broadband.It must be really frustrating not to get what was promised.And I foolishly assumed that since many people whom I know have almost no problems with BSNL broadband,the same must be true throughout the country.But your post and the responses have opened my eyes to a wide angle view of our country :-) as they always have.

    And I completely agree with Mr.Hari’s views.We must not allow corporations to create class divisions on the web.The internet is one of the most egalitarian places on the whole planet and I would hate to see it divided on the basis of wealth.

  18. February 4, 2008 11:39 pm

    somehow u hit on my emotional nerve grrrrr

    these days mtnl service is goin down the drain…
    there are too many customers and their broadband is no more broad .. its bandwith is like a nalla rather than a river
    they should increase the avg throutghput at noon or during office hrs as it gets really bad sometimes

    but i think broadband is miles ahead than dialup and ur statement dialup is better for mail is plain wrong
    probab ur vsnl pop3 gets blocked

    first is ur installation correct ??? most linemen that do it have no clue on how to split the signal
    second have u tried to use dialup pppoe rather than depend upon the modem based routing …

    im posting soon on this topic

  19. February 4, 2008 11:44 pm

    @Raj and Nita: I didn’t quite get the two lane highway part of the post. Aren’t we already paying different tariffs for different connections?

    @Raj: MTNL and BSNL are different. If I remember correctly, when I was looking for a connection, (one in BSNL operated chennai and the other in MTNL bombay) I noticed that the tariffs in Bombay were double for the same speed and service.

    I finally went with airtel, since it was an unlimited UL/DL connection. I used it just for 4-5 months before I graduated, but I found it extremely reliable. I should tell you what kind of user I am. I shut down my computer only 4 times during the entire semester. Each time, an 8 hour break. The internet was always on and being used.

  20. February 5, 2008 12:55 am

    yes
    dd mtnl is a city monopoly and not onlymtnl most isps like the govt milk mumbai for revenues
    no wonder we r the most expensive city to live in

  21. February 5, 2008 12:56 am

    Yes dd ,
    mtnl is a city monopoly restricted to tier 1 cities ie mumbai n delhi and not only mtnl most isps like the govt milk mumbai for revenues
    no wonder we r the most expensive city to live in

  22. February 5, 2008 1:03 am

    Nita ur writeup on the Future of the internet in the world is great and well researched

  23. Raj permalink
    February 5, 2008 1:33 am

    The Depressed Doormat,

    I do not think I can explain the two lane concept clearly in my own words.I shall refer you to the wikipedia article

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiered_Internet

    Also do have a look at the net neutrality link at the bottom of that article.

    Yes,I agree that MTNL and BSNL are different.But what I too cannot understand is why they have such different tariffs and packages despite being sister companies.One reason maybe because MTNL has limited infrastructure (restricted to two cities) compared to its sister which is spread throughout the country which can therefore utilise economies of scale.Also maybe because there is a huge demand for MTNL’s connections in those two densely populated cities which puts a severe strain on its infrastructure.

    I was not saying that Airtel is unreliable or inferior.Not at all.I just mentioned that quite a few people in my city are not exactly pleased that they opted for Airtel,especially with respect to the packages and price.

  24. February 5, 2008 1:49 am

    We have slow and expensive service in the U.S. Not only that, but some companies now want to charge consumers by total usage not a flat fee per month.

  25. February 5, 2008 4:12 am

    raj
    i think u have got it all wrong
    denser the network cheaper it is to manage , lesser cables and plus mtnl has its fixed outdoor labor , the bihari linesmen for the mtnl landline network mostly manage the frontend , backend servers r located at exchanges while main servers are at pdevi,
    Bsnl has to lay cables both copper and fibre optic in whole of the country so the costs r much greater
    tell me why do pvt net operators shun rural areas ?.

    Plain and simple fact is that they charge more because mumbai can pay it is an A Grade city

    india has a very long way to go for a tired internet structure

  26. February 5, 2008 4:13 am

    also mtnl basic tarrifs for landlines are also much more in terms of cost to bsnl

  27. February 5, 2008 4:16 am

    dd what throughput did airtel give u ??

  28. February 5, 2008 8:34 am

    Prax, thanks. :) Yes, this subject is like a raw nerve for me too. And let me clarify what I meant by dial-up being more reliable I meant literally that – reliability. Not speed. You see, if I say send mail or save post and if at that instant the broadband goes off, I can lose data. It’s happened to me several times, even while writing comments. On the other hand with dial-up this has never happened. The connection may hang for a while or become slow but it never goes off.

    Xylene, my brother in Pune has been waiting for a bsnl connection for several months!

    Dinsan, yep, time for an internet revolution!

    Priyank, you are welcome!

    Brian,
    here we pay according to how much we use, at least the connection that I have. The flat rate one is exorbitantly expensive!

    DD,
    four times in a semester! That’s something! I want Airtel!!!

  29. February 5, 2008 9:59 am

    Nita,

    I can’t believe your speed considering the fact you live in Mumbai.

    Many of my friends use VOIP to chat with their parents in India. But, I couldn’t use it because it is hard to get Internet connection from my parents place ( they live in a beautiful rural hilly area).

    I shouldn’t expect a change soon though BSNL keep on telling them it will be sorted out soon.

    People in AUS complain about the broadband speed comparing it with US.

    I tested my speed and looks like I shouldn’t complain( though it shows a 48 Mbps in the tray icon).

  30. February 5, 2008 10:05 am

    48mbps!! Wow, that’s awesome Priya! Actually I don’t live in the centre of the city…I would say I too live in a hilly area! I am not complaining, as I get the best of both. A big city next door and a beautifully green pollution free area. The slow connection is the sacrifice.

  31. Raj permalink
    February 5, 2008 11:02 am

    Prax,

    Thanks for the clarification.Yes,denser networks have lower operational costs,but I still cannot understand why MTNL charges more than BSNL.I think that it is not fair to those who live in the two cities served by MTNL.

    Priya,

    I feel really sorry to spoil your party.I think that the 48 Mbps that you mention in the tray icon is the maximum carrying capacity of your network card(I think you have a wireless connection).But the 5830 kbps and 676 kbps that you have got is awesome! Superb! I sometimes feel envious of those who have such connections.I also feel envious of those who live in beautiful hilly areas and other low pollution zones :-)

  32. February 5, 2008 11:35 am

    @Prax: My airtel connection was a 256kbps downstream. I think it was somewhere in that range for upload bandwidth as well. I can’t recall any of the speed tests I had conducted, but I was a heavy downloader (still am) and I can comfortably say I was happy with the service I got.

    @Nita: That is just my experience. I don’t know how things have changed in the past 18 months. As for turning off my computer, I haven’t turned off my comp in about 5 weeks now (perhaps more). I did restart once because my anti-virus demanded one.

    Here is my current connection. The UL shows 160, which I am pretty sure is inaccurate.

  33. February 5, 2008 2:10 pm

    yes most cards show speed dont trust the icon

    nita a question has the guy split the signal right at ur house ?
    heres how to chk
    mtnl cable —–pots splitter —-1. to all phones 2. to adsl
    or mtnl line —- at each telephone instrument beginning pots splitter and then instrument
    hilly area ? where do u live if u dont mind -the area please
    which router do u have ? ill mail u how to make ur adsl dialup as it is much better and more stable

    DD – that is relatively slow mtnl caps speeds according to their whims normally it is a 2 gb line at night with a max 214 mb speed at my end and upload is at 256 capped
    their name server sometimes plays games so i also use the open dns as backup
    * 208.67.222.222 (resolver1.opendns.com)
    * 208.67.220.220 (resolver2.opendns.com)

    Prax, I’ll send you a mail later tonight. Thanks. – Nita.

  34. February 6, 2008 1:05 am

    Nita,

    Me also using slower network connection. it’s really sometimes tough to manage all of the work. Here, I on avg. I got 30 kbps.

    And I also checkout my net speed though some website and it’s true that, they didn’t show you the right speed of your net. I tested out and I was feeling unhappy to see that kinds of wrong information.. :(

    just want to say, thanks and you have a cool blog :P

  35. Arun permalink
    February 6, 2008 4:47 pm

    Good to see an article on the Indian Broadband, Nita.

    For me in Bangalore, i use the 256 kbps Airtel line and i’m satisfied with that.(I’m a heavy downloader)

    Bangalore also has the WiMAX connectivity from Reliance, which one of my friend is using and seems to be reliable. I’m happy to see WiMAX the next gen technology being deployed here. It is mainly useful in suburbs and rural areas where the wired connection cannot be provided or is expensive. Theoretically WiMAX can provide very large speed even above 50 Mbps. Hoping for reliance to invrease the speed beyond 2Mbps.

    I do hope as some one mentioned, similar to the reduction in call tariff rates, internet charges will also become one of the cheapest in the world some time sooner.

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