TRAI’s recent attempt at addressing subscribers’ compaints of slow broadband speeds has ended with no tangible change for users.
TRAI’s customer surveys revealed that disappointed Internet users were seeking commitment for actual throughput speed or average throughput speed for a site and were compaining, not surprisingly, that ISPs have not provided them the promised bandwidth.
Take for example this graph by LIRNEasia and the TeNet Group, which captures the real speeds when BSNL and Airtel users accessed international websites such as Yahoo. The actual speed of Internet connections as percentages of the speed advertised for BSNL 256k/256k package at business peak (around 11.00 am) and the AirTel 256k/256k package at both business and residential (after 8.00 pm) peaks show sharp deteriorations in quality. It is available here.
In January, TRAI issued a consultation paper “Bandwidth required for ISPs for better connectivity and improved quality of service”, inviting comments from stakeholders. Responses from various players have left the regulatory body meekly accepting that monitoring of these parameters is complex. It has called for transparent subscriber communication, education and awareness in its press release. It also concluded in its guidelines that one more factor – contention ratio – has to be communicated to subscribers.
Internet Access & Contention Ratio
The contention ratio is the number of users competing for the same bandwidth. It can be generally seen that when contention ratio is more than 50:1, bandwidth congestion is more than 84%. TRAI has noted that internationally, the average contention ratio for a home user package is 50:1 and that for business package is 20:1. The maximum contention ratio has been fixed by TRAI and service providers have been asked to ensure availability of minimum bandwidth in their network according to it. Estabishing this could help in a better Internet experience by fixing the floor for minimum upstream bandwidth at the ISPs’ gateway, various players have said.
All the service providers – whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Unified Access, Cellular or Basic Service Providers – will now be required to reveal their contention ratios in tariff plans, manual of practice and call centers, the release said. They will also publish contention ratio information on their website on a quarterly basis. Currently, contention ratio information is not available to the subscribers.
LIRNEasia and the TeNet Group, which have jointly developed an application called AT‐Tester to test links, suggested in their comment that contention ratio should be determined according to the minimum subscriber base as a contention ratio of 1:50 would degrade the Quality of Service experience for a smaller subscriber base.This is most applicable to dial-up users. MTNL added that there is no need to define contention ratio for Dialup as the no. of users of dialup services are very less and are diminishing day by day.
Mobile broadband suppliers wrongly advertise base‐station speeds, said LIRNEasia and TeNet. They suggested reguatory intervention in advertising standards.
Telxess recommended that parameters such as network availability of 95%, roundtrip network latency of 85 msfor Indian sites and 300 ms for International ones and that bandwidth utilization should not exceed 80% on a montly average, be enforced. TRAI had issued similar Broadband QoS standards in October, 2006 but monitoring providers and ensuring more transparency in standards compliance is now required.
Tata Communication reflected in its comment that customers may not have mechanisms to monitor the contention ratio and this would just lead to an additional unknown parameter. Strongly opposing the recommendation of contention ratios and new price slabs based on the new parameter, Tata Teleservices said that it would greatly reduce flexibility in offering competitive retail tariffs. This woud further inhibit uptake and proliferation of broadband services, the operator said in its comment. BSNL also said that the number of packages will increase multifold on addition of contention ratio as one of the parameters. Hathway Cable has said that such a mandated contention ratio would not be in interest of stand alone ISPs in its comment. According to Reliance, contention ratios are not an indicator of quality of service in a ‘capped environment’, with very low monthly usage in India. Its reasoning is here.
Will contention ratios be applicable for IPTV? According to TRAI, the increasing number of broadband subscribers and IPTV and peer-to-peer file sharing have emphasized the need to ensure high quality broadband connections. But providers say that Video on Demand or IPTV networks actually do not use the internet bandwidth as they use local core networks and so will not require contention ratios.
– Mirror Sites: Initiate mirroring of most visited content by Indian users in India. Bandwidth utilization is still 80% from international content sites, according to Hathway Cable. By aggressively promoting hosting of the India related regional content in India, we as a country will be able to reduce the dependence on international bandwidth, which is 8 to 10 times more expensive than US / UK. This would help in improving the quality of service and enabling faster Internet Access while reducing network-related cost at the same time. Bharti also said the content should be brought closer to users to reduce unpredictability of the Internet’s speed in its comment.
– Fair Usage: Bharti has recommended giving more power to service providers, allowing them to restrict the few bandwidth huggers from the pack who deteriorate the experience of the majority normal users. How would casting out heavy Internet users help the ISP?
– Customer Self Service Portal: Customers can be allowed to check the
broadband speed and contention ratio for each product at a standard site
hosted by TRAI or some independent body.
– Reduce Costs: The cost of international bandwidth should be reduced so as to make it affordable for the ISPs to provide more internet bandwidth to the end user while retaining the same the tariffs, MTNL suggested.
No Regulatory Burdening
TRAI has stepped back, saying “any regulatory burden in present economic environment of Internet sector may increase the cost of service provisioning and will adversely impact the growth of broadband” and that “the Authority prefers least regulatory intervention while providing greater flexibility to service providers.” The press release reflects TRAI’s caution saying it would onlt “encourage them (ISPs) to use their ingenuity to improve the service to their subscribers.”