by June 30, 2000 0 comments

Among the 11 ISPs we tested, Pacific Internet and Wipro-Net emerge as the best bet

We started the ISP shootout from Bangalore, though we’d
picked up some of the national accounts in Delhi. And the pace at which the
shootout started did discourage us a bit–registering 11 accounts was no mean
task. A new installation of the operating system for each, reboots, the quirky
behavior of installation CDs, and some hilarious and some really helpful
helpdesks–we saw it all. So, what did we find out?

It’s easy to buy an account

Buying Internet accounts in Bangalore is not an ordeal. Most
helpdesks directed us to their dealers nearest to us. A couple of them–Manipal
Data Control and SwiftMail–even delivered the accounts to our place.

Registration blues

We couldn’t register the Sigma Online account at Bangalore–finally,
we had to do that at Mumbai. The starter pack we purchased had no manual, and
gave the wrong helpdesk numbers. The helpdesk numbers given at the Website were
also found to be wrong. Using the pack, we couldn’t get registered on our own.
Sad, since Sigma turned out to have the best transfer rates.

Of the rest, we faced the maximum trouble with bplnet. It
works only with IE 4.01 and up. If you don’t have that, you can choose to
install IE 5 from the CD. Even if you choose to continue without the IE 5
install, the CD customizes your existing IE with a bplnet logo–something we
didn’t find amusing. What’s more, once the install was through, our machine
went into a freeze. But the helpdesk came to rescue. They were on the phone for
almost an hour guiding us through the entire process (we were lucky to have two
telephone lines, but you may not be that lucky). Apparently, there’s a way
around even with older versions of IE. You have to delete some files, change the
default home page, create a Dial-up Networking connection named “Connect to
bplnet” (written in exactly that manner, and no other)…Was there no end
to the quirks? And did this happen with all users, we wondered? God help the
helpdesk. We, for one, wouldn’t want to trade places with them.

To check whether the experience was one-off, we bought
another account. The bplnet dealer informed us that their bandwidth was being
upgraded. This time we crossed the installation safely, and were on to the
dial-in-and-wait method of registration–go to the bplnet homepage, click and
wait for what seemed like 10 minutes, enter some information and wait some more,
click and wait a bit more. And it worked–only we lost connect at the last
point. Things may have changed since then, but check before you decide on bplnet.

Next on our trouble list was Mantra. We kept losing connect
through our innumerable attempts to register. And we didn’t get much help from
the helpdesk either. However, once we managed to hold connect, the rest was
easy.

Dishnet has a weird way of registering–you have to register
at their Website, but after connecting using another ISP or from a cyber café!
And a Dishnet account registered in Delhi doesn’t work in Mumbai or any of the
southern cities. You have to pick up a new account in each of these zones.
Dishnet doesn’t come with a manual either–so the helpdesk is your only way
out.

ZeeNext, NetKracker and Manipal too gave some problems, but
nothing to hold us back. A bit of tinkering around and we were through.

Registration was easy with Satyam, Pacific Internet, and VSNL.
With Pacific, we lost connect while registering, but the help did the rest of it
for us. However, the breeziest registration of all was Swift Mail–really swift
indeed. No starter CDs–the helpdesk does the registration for you and guides
you through configuring dial-up networking.

Help!

Some hilarious and some helpful–that’s what we said in
the beginning, right? Hilarious, that was ZeeNext. “Madam, add a zero to
the dial-up number.” “But it’s already there, by default.”
“Oh, please remove it then, madam.” They have a toll-free number–so
help doesn’t cost you the local call. The helpful one was bplnet. This is the
most patient and unassuming helpdesk we came across in Bangalore–but then,
with the problems we faced, they better be patient.

Wipro-Net’s NetKracker (again a toll-free number) and
Manipal Data Control were prompt, but didn’t have satisfactory answers for all
our questions. Dishnet was prompt, but there’s no direct helpline–you go
through the EPABX. So, you may not get through quickly. Getting through to
Mantra’s helpdesk isn’t easy at all times. Satyam, Pacific Internet and VSNL
were at par–prompt and helpful. But the person at the VSNL helpdesk could do
without sounding so rude. SwiftMail scores again with its prompt and helpful
helpdesk. The only thing that goes against them is that they have no direct help
number. But since we got our answers quickly, we don’t take it as a huge
negative.

Connects and transfer rates

Who gave us the best connects? SwiftMail, Dishnet, and
NetKracker connected at the first go in one or two rings. Most of the others got
us connected in two tries, Manipal Data Control and Mantra took an average of
three.

Where transfer rates were concerned, almost all ISPs gave
better ones during the day time, as opposed to the evening and the night. We got
the best transfer rates with Sigma Online (by then our team in Mumbai had
managed to register the account) followed closely by Pacific Internet and
NetKracker. Satyam, which put up a good performance and even topped the charts
in many other cities, wasn’t able to repeat that in Bangalore. VSNL was
average. The rest scored low on transfer rates. BPLNet seems to have choked FTP
in favour of HTTP. We were able to get reasonable browsing speeds, but
absolutely no file transfers. Similar was the case with Manipal Data Control.

So who’s the winner?

Sigma Online would have been the winner, but for the fact
that we couldn’t register the account at Bangalore. We found Pacific Internet
and Wipro-Net’s NetKracker to be the best all-round choices in Bangalore. One
point to be remembered is that both are new services and probably don’t have
as many subscribers as older ISPs like VSNL, Satyam, and Mantra.

The days to come will show whether they can scale up user
numbers and continue to provide the same levels of service. It would indeed be
nice if they could.

Vini Goel, Suma E P, and Krishna Kumar@Bangalore

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