by February 28, 2001 0 comments

The ISP scene in the country is pretty confusing at the best of times. On one
side, users are screaming for better services and more bandwidth. Many ISPs, on
the other hand, are busy pointing fingers at each other (actually mostly at VSNL)
for things not working.

Last year, the problem was that you had to dial several times before you were
able to connect to the Internet. This time around, ISPs have become smarter. All
of them have installed more phone lines and access ports. So you get connected
fast enough. But what after that? From waiting to connect, to waiting for even
the most simple of Web pages to download! Come to think of it, you are actually
worse off, as now you are paying for the telephone calls as you wait.

With broadband taking its first steps in the country, there is enough
confusion about what to expect. User complaints are already mounting, ranging
from having to wait for weeks for a connection to be given, to poor quality of
service (read poor throughputs).

If you try to find out about a broadband connection, you will be inundated
with options for different technologies and discourses on the difference between
Kbps with a capital k and without a capital k and with or without a capital b,
and God knows what else. But, how will you know whether you are getting
broadband or not?

Let me give you a simple test, something you can do without using any
equipment or software. Let me explain with an example before I get into the test
itself.

When you turn this page, you expect the next page to be there, text, pictures
and all. You do not expect to have to wait for the words to form in front of
your eyes, right? Broadband experience is similar. When you type a URL into your
browser, or click on a link on an already open page, the new page should open up
instantaneously and completely, as if you were just turning a page in a book. At
the very least, that is what broadband should offer you.

So, here’s the test. Try connecting from a friend’s place or cyber café
that already has an established connection from the same ISP that you plan to
take a broadband connection from. Open the browser, clear the cache, and type in
a URL. See how fast the page loads up. Did it load up in a flash? Now click on a
link on that page and open pages a few levels down and see how fast they load.

Did the ‘opening page..’ message in the bottom bar of the browser stay
long enough for you to read it? It should not. If it did and if there was any
need to wait for the page to load up, you are just getting cheaper access, not
broadband.

Unfortunately, my bet is that most of you are just paying for cheaper access,
and not for the broadband experience.

That is the next battlefront. How do you ensure that you get what you are
promised? No amount of calls to help desks or consumer courts or editorials in
computer magazines will make that happen. The problem is not that there is not
enough infrastructure. The problem is plain old bandwidth. There is not enough
international bandwidth being purchased. You may dig up the whole country and
put fiber in, but that will not get you anywhere if you do not have all the
content sitting on this side of the pacific, or if you do not have fat pipes
connecting to the rest of the world.

And those pipes will not happen till someone invests good money. That
investment will not happen unless there is good money to be made out of it. Now
that is a catch-22 situation if there ever was one.

Krishna Kumar

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