Mumbai based Internet Service Provider 7 Star Digital jumped to the top spot of Netflix’s ISP Speed Index for India, defeating Airtel, which held on to the #1 position for most of the last year. This boost was driven by 7 Star installing two Netflix caches in its network, 7 Star confirmed to MediaNama. Netflix gives these caches, known as Open Connect Appliances (OCAs), for free to participating Internet providers around the world. Though Netflix does not comment on the number of these caches it has in place, British researchers estimated in a study that Netflix had hundreds of these OCAs around the world last year.

“Since we operate in Areas like Juhu, Lokhandwala, and Versova there is huge demand for Netflix content,” 7 Star’s CTO Vijay Ahire told MediaNama. “We made use of the Netflix Open Connect Program in which we received two nodes which serves content from those nodes based on popularity.” Ahire also said that competition with Jio’s fiber broadband service, which is starting to roll out to more cities, partly contributed to 7 Star choosing to obtain Netflix caches.

On Wednesday, MediaNama reported that Netflix had begun peering directly with the Mumbai Internet Exchange (also known as the Mumbai Convergence Hub), India’s second largest Internet exchange. Earlier, we had reported that Netflix had deployed Open Connect Appliances to three large broadband providers in the country. Around this time last year, Netflix had no server presence in India, and served most traffic from overseas locations like Singapore. Halfway into its second year in India, the company’s server presence — and physical presence — is gradually increasing. It is opening an office in Mumbai soon, and is looking for an executive to manage relationships with Internet providers.

Defending CDNs at the TRAI

TRAI is currently holding a consultation on Net Neutrality, and in that consultation, the regulator briefly considered the possibility of regulating Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) like Open Connect. Netflix argued forcefully against such regulations in its TRAI filings, as did CDN firm Akamai. Both argued that CDNs are not anti-competitive, and are only used to solve bandwidth limitations faced by content providers as well as Internet providers.

Netflix’s ISP Speed Index explained

Netflix’s ISP Speed Index is not a measure of how fast an Internet provider’s service is; in fact, it’s not even entirely a measure of how fast Netflix will be for an Internet provider’s network. Rather, the index measures and averages the bitrate of video (not bitrate of throughput, i.e., data flow) that an ISP’s subscribers are able to play on Netflix, during peak hours. For example, one ISP’s user may have a 4Mbps Internet connection, but on Netflix, the maximum speed they are able to get is 2Mbps. A different ISP, which has a Netflix OCA installed in its network, might have throughputs of almost 100Mbps for users on fast connections.

In both cases, Netflix will only measure the bitrate of the video that the users are able to play, not necessarily the speed at which Netflix’s video data reaches subscribers. So hypothetically speaking, if both of these example ISPs’ users are only streaming Netflix videos that have a maximum bitrate of around 2Mbps during peak hours, both providers will have a similar rank on the index, even though the throughput on the second provider’s network is fifty times faster.

As such, even though 7 Star is the #1 ISP in Netflix’s ISP Speed Index, it doesn’t necessarily mean that no other Internet providers have as reliable a connection to Netflix as them. Other Internet providers that have OCAs do not have them in all cities, which pulls down their average monthly speed. Since 7 Star only operates in Mumbai, and all their users accessing Netflix get the video stream from the OCA, their average Netflix bitrate is bound to be higher than other providers’. Other ISPs on the list are comparatively large ISPs, and those with OCAs don’t have them deployed everywhere. While Netflix has an option to filter out smaller Internet providers in their ISP Index for the US, there’s no similar option yet for India, which means that 7 Star is probably going to stay on top of this list for the foreseeable future.

Nikhil adds: Think of the effect that Netflix’s ranking of ISPs has on service providers: Internet access is competitive in several parts of metro cities in India, and ISPs try and out-do one another, especially among high bandwidth, high ARPU customers. The Netflix ISP speed index becomes a battleground for ISPs to prove to these customers that their connection speeds for video are high, and more importantly, higher than the others. Topping the charts, or at least being among the top three, becomes a marketing tool for ISPs. For Netflix, this listing creates a situation where ISPs will sign up for OCA in order to do better in the rankings. Consequently, consumers are delivered cached content, which works for them. Note that end-user delivery of content still remains dependent on the last-mile of access.