Slow internet? Here is how your service provider is fleecing you. Kalyan Parbat | ET Bureau . Wired broadband speeds available to 17 million paying consumers in India are far below what service providers promise when they charge end users for particular data services.
June 20 was World Wifi Day — an occasion to celebrate speedy, reliable internet connections. India, although a major internet market and the fastest growing now, is a very odd place for such celebration. Average internet speed in India is lower than all other countries in BRICs and lower than most other emerging economies.
Plus, wired broadband speeds available to 17 million paying consumers in India are far below what service providers promise when they charge end users for particular data services. A data service package that promises 8 Mbps will typically max out at 5 Mbps (Mbps is megabits per second, a measure of internet speed). Wireless connections are even more patchy.
Still worse, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and consumer advocacy groups haven’t made much headway and service providers are ready with a set of arguments. Trai, which will release a consultation paper on promoting WiFi in public places, has a fairly conservative definition of broadband — that download speed should not fall below 512 kbps (kilobits per second; 1Mbps equals 1,000 kbps).Launching sky homes in Urbania, Thane West Ad Rustomjee Urbania The end result: high-paying consumers suffer.
In a wired broadband service used at homes, few factors determine performance. First, the contention ratio, a key metric that measures the number of internet users sharing a fixed amount of data capacity or ‘bandwidth’ in a location at the same time. If the number of such users is large, the contention ratio will be high and real internet speed low.
Second, the latency of a network, a measure of the delay a user experiences when his/her computer tries to access an internet server. If a service provider runs a low latency network, internet speed will be better.
Third is per capita spectrum usage/holdings in a country and India’s is far below that of Western countries and major emerging economies.
In India, a low bandwidth availability country to begin with, wired broadband services typically have high contention ratio and/or high latency. Service providers Bharti Airtel, RCom and BSNL did not reply to ET’s queries on internet speed.
Bijender Yadav, chief technology & information officer at Sistema Shyam Teleservices, another service provider, told ET data download speeds could fall below contracted levels in case of improper network planning and bandwidth distribution, or if there are glitches in the transmission link between a service provider’s internet gateway and the home broadband user’s premises.
A senior executive of a leading wired broadband service said, on the condition of anonymity, that companies do make certain assumptions.
Say, 10 customers are sold 2 Mbps connections, which means 20 Mbps should be available. But the company may provide only 5 Mbps for these 10 customers, assuming not all customers will be using their internet connections heavily at the same time. Therefore, the guaranteed internet speed is not 2 Mbps, but just 500 kbps.
Many telco executives ET spoke to said while the contention ratios are high given bandwidth availability, since bandwidth is a “scarce resource” it must be “optimised” to keep prices low for consumers. These executives spoke off record.
Consumer advocacy groups are, however, sceptical of this argument. They say companies are simply maximising data connection sales without offering good network quality.
“Telcos are selling bandwidth way beyond the optimum capacity of their networks and compromising on speed. Could they have done this if bandwidth was a tangible resource like cars or machines…imagine selling more cars than you’ve manufactured,” asks Hemant Upadhyay, advisor (telecom and IT) at Consumer Voice, a leading telecom consumer group.
Consumer groups have recently urged the telecom regulator, Trai, to ensure an app that can continuously monitor bandwidth availability should be in use. Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bengaluru based research organisation, Centre for Internet and Society, argues Trai must ensure mandatory disclosure of contention ratios by service providers. “If such disclosures become mandatory, home broadband users can buy wired internet connections more judiciously with a better sense of what data speeds to expect from telcos and the possible quality of their experience.”
Trai did not offer any comment on the call for mandatory disclosure of contention ratios by wired broadband operators. A top executive of a leading operator, speaking off record, dismissed the proposal, saying “it wouldn’t make sense to mandate service providers to make such disclosures as contention ratios vary from place to place”.
Some experts are optimistic that WiFi networks may offer better services to high-paying data consumers. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm are deploying WiFi networks. Airtel and Vodafone have also launched WiFi hotspots apps. Jio is slated to do the same after its expected launch later this year. But WiFi in public places hasn’t taken off so far. Cumbersome authentication procedures and challenges around monetising services have been hurdles.
The speed of internet in the world’s fastest growing internet market will likely remain below world average. Notwithstanding above limitations, still we will excel and that’s the firm belief…… Mera Bharath Mahaan !!!