Rejoice all. Broadband is here at long last. Hallelujah! Glory to God in the Highest! For he hath delivered us at last from the tyranny of the dial-up connect. Amen! That about sums up the reaction of the majority of the users who’d switched over to Asianet’s cable Internet service. I met or spoke to nearly a dozen of those who signed up for broadband at Thiruvananthapuram. And it seems that they rejoiced too soon.
Three of the people I talked to are practicing senior doctors who had been heavy VSNL Internet users for a long while; another is a retired doctor from the US who depends on e-mail to keep in touch with his family members in the US and who was raging mad with the service provided by his previous ISP. A couple of the new users I met are businesspeople, who are not Net savvy yet. Another is the director of a leading advertising agency. He’s a young chap who uses the Internet to plan all his travel among other things and who, till now, was at the mercy of ETH at home and VSNL at office. Then I met a young lady executive, who uses the Net for professional purposes as well as chat and other such diversions, who was plotting the murder of all who worked for her previous ISP.
Though the broadband connection for these users is live 24 hours, nobody uses it for more than two to three hours on an average per day and maybe a little more on holidays. Incidentally, most of them use their cable Internet service for mail and browsing.
It was apparent to me that many of these users were not particularly bothered about the quality of service dished out by Asianet. Or was ennui born out of having to choose between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? To begin with, Asianet behaves like any government department where you go and pay Rs 100 and book your connection. After that, the first team comes to check the signal levels, etc. Next come the cabling boys who pull a connection to your computer and leave. Last come the ‘engineers’ who will connect you up. All this takes anything from a week to two.
Coming to pricing, the modem is priced at Rs 13,900. Most of the units supplied are the E-Tech model ICE-200 (www.e-tech.co.tw). Lately they have been supplying some Motorola modems, which appear to provide better line negotiation and faster connects. If you don’t have an Ethernet card on your PC, they will charge you Rs 1,000 for a card that is available locally for about Rs 650. In one of the residential flats, about six houses were connected using one modem and an eight-port hub; the deal was that each user should pay the individual usage fee (Rs 880 a month) and the cost of the modem and the hub was divided among them. The hub, something that sells for about Rs 2,000, was priced at nearly Rs 10,000!
When I called up the service provider’s office as a prospective customer, they gave me the rates as Rs 880 as monthly access charges, Rs 13,900 for the modem, and Rs 750 as installation charges. I could opt for a hire-purchase of the modem, where I had to pay an initial instalment of Rs 2,000 and a monthly payment of Rs 650 for 24 months. Although their leaflet specified a download limit of 500 MB/month, with additional charges of Rs 100 for every additional 100 MB, the voice at the other end of the line assured me that as of now it was only a ‘formality’ put in by the company. He said I was free to install my own Ethernet card, but not an imported cable modem, as it might "mess up their server computer" and that they might allow that later.
About the connect speeds (the brochure promises "...bandwidth 500 times greater than the fastest telephone modem..."), the person was cagey and said that though they had a 64 kbps connection, the best that home users could expect was only 32 kbps. When I persisted about guaranteeing a minimum connect speed (I was anyway going to pay a fixed monthly fee and that too by postdated cheques if I went in for the modem hire-purchase) he launched into some complicated math about kbps and kBps and multiplication and division by 10... and enough and more math to flummox even a Stephen Hawking!
For my connection, I pushed the nitty-gritty to my niece who is a heavy Net user, officially and otherwise. She was after the service providers for a couple of weeks, and after the cable had been hanging near our computer for some time, we were told by the office (which is a kilometer away from our house) that the techies had left for our home. Finally, a week later we got the connection. The results were uniform and in agreement with what the others got—the best connect was around 3–4 kbps, and sometimes we got a crawl of about 1 kbps. Sometimes in the mornings the connection was down; this is something that a few others also experienced.
Some users did take up the case of the slow connection. The e-mail exchanges between one such user and the service provider make interesting reading. Reproduced below are excerpts:
"ADL Support" <adlsupport@ asianet india.com>
X-Mailer: Netscape Webmail
We have promised 32 kbps and we are ensuring this speed. If you convert the kbps into kBps you have to divide the 32 by 10, which is the length of bits in one Byte with the start and stop bit included. This means that you will get 3.2 kBps downloads depending on the internet traffic internationally as we are also connected to the same US pipe that connects all the Indian/Singapore gateways.
If you still require faster downloads you can subscribe for our higher schemes which will cost you more depending on the bandwidth taken.
Asianet Dataline Services
After a lot of back and forth, the ISP finally sort of admitted that the problem could be at their end.
From: "Info Asianet" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 09 Feb 2001 21:21:12 +0500
X-Mailer: Netscape Webmail
Subject: Slow internet connection
We clarified the matter about slow internet connection with Singtel. The problem is with Singtel as there was 70 percent packet loss. They have assured us to rectify the problems at the earliest.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Kindly bear with us,
Subscribers have countered that they did not buy their connections from Singtel, and are considering contacting Singtel anyway about this. Hopefully, things will get better in the days to come.
Unnikrishnan K Panickar