by July 6, 2000 0 comments

We arrived in Hyderabad armed with a list of nine ISPs that
were operational. Our bureau updated the list, and we finally had 11 ISPs to
test out. Since we already had our homework done from the ISP Websites, we knew
which numbers to punch in to buy the accounts. However, the numbers of VSNL and
ETH turned out to be wrong. Thanks to directory services, we soon found out the
right numbers, but here’s the lesson–not all ISPs keep their Websites
updated about their latest dial-up and helpdesk numbers.

Help!

You could be surfing the Net any time of the day or night–which
means you could need help anytime. So we didn’t wait for anything–not even
breakfast–and started calling up helpdesk numbers with questions on tariffs,
where to buy the packs, and some trick questions too.

Who were the sleepyheads? Global Online–the security guard
answered the call; Southern Online who answered the call in five rings, was able
to give only half the information we were looking for, and asked us to call back
at 9:30 am (maybe we should have had our breakfast after all). Pioneer answered
promptly, but the answers were far from satisfactory.

So, who fared well? Sigma was prompt and their answers were
satisfactory. Satyam scored high for its prompt response and to-the-point
answers. But they let us down when we needed them later in the day for some
troubleshooting–they wouldn’t pick up the phone. Whoever was on duty at VSNL’s
helpdesk during our lunchtime call was in the middle of his lunch, and in a
hurry to get us off the phone. He did give us a satisfactory answer to one of
the queries. But for the second one–”We can’t connect”, the answer
was a curt–”Please complain to DoT”, and he promptly hung up, even
before we’d finished.

ETH was on par with Pioneer–prompt but unsatisfactory
answers. Nettlinx’s helpdesk was helpful, but some work was needed from our
side to arrive at the right answers. We were also given a gentle warning that
while we could get connected that day, browsing was likely to be slow because of
some problems at VSNL. City Online did a bit of transferring the call around and
discussing our “problem” with other support personnel, but finally
they found someone who seemed to know his job fairly well.

And finally, Intech Net–this was our most frustrating
experience in Hyderabad. Not that they were not helpful–they were. Only we
ended up calling up their accounts department to get the information we were
looking for. And finally, brush up on your Telugu before you try this helpdesk–English
may not work at all times, nor Hindi.

Mantra wasn’t yet operational in Hyderabad when we were
doing our tests. They were supposed to start off within a week.

Whatever happened to those smaller accounts?

Some of the local ISPs in Hyderabad have only hefty account
options–no smaller trial packs. The exceptions are NettLinx (25 hours for Rs
375), and Pioneer Online (one-month unlimited access for Rs 399). City Online’s
helpdesk categorically told us that there are no options below Rs 990, but we
were able to find out from someone else in the company that they do have a
25-hour account for Rs 495. Compare these to the other minimum packs from the
locals–Southern Online’s 100 hours for Rs 1,350; Intech Net’s three-month
account for Rs 3,000; and Global Online’s 50-hour pack for Rs 999. Hefty
indeed.

Some hidden costs

Some of the smaller cities show a trend–that of installation charges. This
isn’t so significant for those ISPs who themselves register you online, as the
registration happens through dial-up networking, over the phone. But when you
have a starter CD or floppy involved, be sure to ask about installation charges.
Especially if you have a “Channel Service Partner”–more commonly
known as a

dealer–coming in to give you the account. If he does the
installation, you may have to pay anything from Rs 100 to Rs 500. So, be sure to
ask about installation costs before you order your account. The best option in
such cases is to do the installation yourself–our article “Setting up
Your Net Connection”, page 40 in this issue will tell you how, or the
helpdesk will walk you through it in case you get stuck. Do remember to ask the
helpdesk person’s name, so you can get back to her in case of recurring
trouble. Also, not all accounts get delivered at your doorstep–you’ll have
to pick up some of the low-end ones yourself.

Is registration easy?

Nettlinx force installs Netscape on your machine when you try
to register the account. We faced a bit of problem while registering too–we
were finally told that we had to add an @nettlinx to our user ID (notice that
there’s no .com after that). The helpdesk also asked us to enter an AT string
in the Modem settings, but that simply locked up the modem nice and proper. Some
bit of troubleshooting got us online.

VSNL gave a bit of trouble too. We managed to go online after
some tinkering around–we had to enable the “Bring up the terminal window
after dialing” option to get going. We didn’t need to do that in other
cities, barring Trivandrum. We couldn’t test Global Online–they were unable
to register us as they had no electricity (and we thought that ISPs had backup
power supply). We were also unable to check Southern Online out, because they
didn’t have a package below Rs 800.

With City Online, Intech Net, and Pioneer Online, we
configured Dial-up Networking manually, and registered over the phone, skipping
the wait-for-the-starter CD bit. These went off smoothly.

What about connects and downloads?

Once the registration was done, the connection bit was a
breeze with most ISPs. We were able to connect at first try, except with Intech
Net–its lines were busy throughout the testing period.

But unfortunately, our joy was short-lived. Most of the ISPs
failed to measure up when it came to our FTP tests. Saying that Internet
services in Hyderabad crawl would be being too optimistic. Many ISPs seemed to
have problems with their DNS also.

Sigma scored well, both in connecting and in transfer rates.
VSNL crawled in transfer rates, and so did City Online. The others just couldn’t
make the grade–miserable transfer rates resulted in the file being transferred
failing to come through completely.

And that brings us to our choice of ISP in Hyderabad–Sigma.
City Online and VSNL gave Sigma some competition, but better transfer rates and
a more helpful helpdesk gave Sigma the edge. A word of caution though. We had
problems registering the Sigma account in both Bangalore and Mumbai. At
Hyderabad, we didn’t try to register the account, opting instead to use the
one we registered after much trouble at Mumbai.

Suma E P@Hyderabad

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