airtelBharti Airtel has launched a 16 Mbps broadband service, boosting its existing broadband offerings in New Delhi, NCR, Chennai, Bangalore. This comes close to the heels of Tata Indicoms Power Launcher, which offered speeds of 100 Mbps over an Ethernet network to homes and offices in Mumbai; Practical speeds for Tata Indicom users is around 10 Mbps, which Airtel beats by a clear margin.

Airtel was already offering 8 Mbps broadband through its 90, 205 km long fibre optic network.  It has now doubled the download speed to 16 Mbps, and upload speeds have been boosted from 768 Kbps to 2 Mbps. This is suitable for data-heavy applications like video conferencing, gaming and video streaming.

Pricing

Two tariff plans are offered – Rs 2999 per month with a data transfer limit (not download) of 20 Gb; Rs 4999  for a 50 Gb limit and a landline thrown in.

Airtel’s 8 Mbps line came for Rs 1299 per month and a data transfer limit of 4 Gb. The new data transfer limits offer much more freedom –  20 Gb will suit basic surfers and the 50 Gb limit has been set for heavy users. We do not know the price for data downloads that exceed this limit. There is no unlimited plan.

This absence of unlimited offers by broadband ISPs is a complete letdown, but then both Tata Indicom and Airtel have “Fair Usage” limits for their broadband services; as MediaNama had reported earlier, both companies also limits for their wireless broadband services.

Technology

Airtel reaches 9.92 lakh broadband customers in the country using its Carrier Ethernet network in the country and supplies it to homes using copper cables (DSL/ Digital Subscriber Line) for the last mile. Now Airtel has upgraded the lines to ADSL2+ technology offering 16 Mbps speeds compared to DSL’s 8 Mbps. It requires Airtel landlines whereas Tata Indicom uses Ethernet cables to directly connect to PCs or laptops. Tata Teleservices Maharashtra Ltd (TTML) has established a 1500 km wide area network that connects 20,000 buildings in Mumbai with fibre cable and is slowly expanding this to other cities. Its Power Launcher service is priced at a steep Rs 10,500 per month but there does not seem to be a download limit – a definite advantage compared to existing plans by ISPs.

Where: Airtel is targeting metros first and will also launch in Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata. If it plans to launch in tier 2 cities, the company will have to find a way to reduce these rates. It has an advantage over TTML which has  only launched in Mumbai as it can tap its existing user base.

This sudden spurt in broadband offers is welcome, but it is also getting harder to choose with each service bringing its own limitations  – both in terms of price and data transfer cut offs. For users of other Internet services – such as BSNL and MTNL – it could be an attractive option.

Airtels Broadband Subscriber Base

At 754, 342 subscribers, Airtel has the second largest base of broadband subscribers in India, according to the latest TRAI quarterly numbers report, for the quarter ending 31st December 2008. Airtel recorded a increase of 100,840 in its broadband subscriber base, cornering 13.65% of the market. It still is a long way off from BSNL, which has almost four times the base at 3,007,415 subscribers and 54.44% of the market.

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