The Tatas envisioned Mumbai as a digital city and it appears that it has become the hotbed of broadband launches in India. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are rigorously expanding their network coverage and offering high speed data connections in the city. Government owned telco MTNL now offers a 20 MBps broadband service tailored for corporate customers in Mumbai.

Other Broadband Providers, Technologies, Speeds

Mumbai, the business hub, is the first metro chosen by ISPs to trial various technologies before expanding services to other cities –  first Reliance Communication (RCOM) launched 3.1 Mbps NetConnect Broadband Plus with CDMA2000 EVDV technology, then Tata Indicom launched Ethernet based Power Launcher series of data modems with ADSL (which offered 100 MBps speeds but practical speeds of 10 MBps) and Photon Pro with 18 MBps. Airtel offered 16 MBps lines using ADSL2+ technology to corporates and 8MBps for home users in the city.

The technology used by MTNL is Very High Rate Digital Subscriber Lines or VDSL; there is a fast guide on DSL on Whatis.Techtarget). DSL is the most common technology being used to deliver broadband services in the country – as of October 2009, 86.66% of broadband users connected through DSL. Cable modems are next in popularity followed by Ethernet/LANs but it appears that new technologies are being trialled in an attempt to woo users.

Though VDSL broadband can offer up to 50-55 Mbps, MTNL announced that its service can deliver download speeds of only 10-20 MBps. The tariff can be viewed here. The free download limit is at 18GB: none of the providers offer unlimited data download and it is disappointing to see that MTNL has taken the same route. While Airtel charges Rs. 2 per MB downloaded after the download limit of 10 GB per month, MTNL only charges Rs. 0.50 per MB after the download limit – a much better offer, but still under the Fair Usage clause.

MTNL has not set any limits for home users with its Triband broadband plan, which it recently pumped up to offer speeds of 384 Kbps. Airtel, RCOM and Tata Indicom have fixed Fair Usage limits to their broadband services.

Pricing, Subscribers

Tata Indicom has spread its net through the city with a 1500 km area Ethernet network  that connects over 20,000 buildings. The service is priced at Rs 10,500 per month.  MTNL’s service is fixed at a competitive Rs. 9,000 per month. It does not offer any free calls and tariffs for calls are at par with the One India STD and One India STD/ISD plan for landlines.

Airtel reported that it has 1.14 million DSL customers and around 40.3 percent of its fixed line subscribers are on DSL. Comparatively, MTNL had a total of 6,95,500 broadband subscribers as of April, 2009 and its broadband base grew by 22% during FY09.

Disadvantages of VDSL; IPTV

MTNL’s customers will need to be located within 1 kilometre of a telephone exchange. VDSL lines also incur high maintenance costs, and MTNL, which saw net profits falling 63% last fiscal to Rs. 2,148 million, might have a problem on its hands. MTNL is operational in two circles – Delhi and Mumbai.

Interestingly, MTNL has mentioned that this service will help broadcast HDTV – since VDSL lines offer improved speeds and are a cheaper alternative to fibre roll outs, they can offer a boost to MTNL’s IPTV franchisees. But VDSL lines can only support few HD channels at any given time, so was this the right choice of technology?

What About WiMAX?

It is heartening to hear of high speed broadband launches and advancements but where is the wireless broadband network we have heard about for 5 years now? The excitement of a wire-free connection to the Internet that will deliver speeds of 70 MBps (practical speeds of 20 MBps) has faded with none of the ISPs in India managing to get past the pilot stage. Now, Tata Communications has said that it will focus on WiMAX with the COO of its retail broadband unit Prateek Pashine joining the WiMAX forum as director. Can we expect WiMAX launches this year or is the dream dead?

Key Broadband Intiatives

Apr 17 , 2009: Airtel Boosts Broadband Speeds To 16 Mbps (read)
Mar 30, 2009: Tata, RCOM Unlimited Wireless Data Card Plans Have Data Limits Of 10 GB (read)
Mar 19, 2009: TTML Follows Reliance Netconnect Plus With Photon+; Mumbai To Be A Digital City? (read)
Mar 12, 2009: RCOM Launches Netconnect Broadband Plus With Upto 3.1 Mbps Wireless Download Speed; 3G, WiMAX? (read)
Mar 4, 2009: Tata Indicom May Suspend Or Terminate Unlimited Broadband Accounts If Used Beyond Limits (read)
Mar 4, 2009: Airtel To Moderate User Broadband Speeds; What Of Net Neutrality? (read)

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