Why Broadband Is So Poor In India?

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Why Broadband Is So Poor In IndiaYou must have thought few times - why really speeds are so slow. If not slow, then you have “capping”.

Fact is - most of broadband connections in India are “capped” in either speeds or in usage. When you can get 2Mbps speed for 250Rs a month plan, why speeds get 1/4th when you go for un-metered 512Kbps plan?

I started working on a project to improve Internet connectivity in India.

Project was under a couple of big names, but later they pulled off their support, and I had no other way - then to carry project independently. I would like to share some of data, and will help you in understand what’s really wrong in case of India.

To understand what’s wrong, we need to first look into how exactly we are “physically” connected. Most of Internet is all about server - client based architecture. Clients are end user machines which ask for data - like you (the end user) streaming a video on youtube, and servers are machines which serve data (like youtube’s servers at Google datacenter).

Most of these servers are placed on high capacity connections at datacenters, with highly redundant power systems, and cooling systems. “Connectivity” is all about connecting end user system to these servers.

We can broadly classify whole connectivity into 3 parts:

1. Last mile - “link from telephone exchange/BTS/pop to your home

2. Middle mile/Core network - “the backbone network of ISP

3. Data Centers - “place where data is located

Let’s try to understand each of them.

Last mile:
As said, last mile is link from telephone exchange to your home. This can be over copper wires in case of DSL, co-axial cables in case of cable broadband, wireless spectrum in case of 3G, WiMax etc.

Middle mile/core network:
This refers to backbone connectivity of ISP. This consists of links over Optical fibres mostly ranging in few Gbps. E.g most of core network routers of BSNL-NIB are presently on 10Gbps. Here ISP’s set some core high capacity routers linked over meshed fibre links.

It’s much like connectivity states with National highways, and connecting cities with state highways. State telco like BSNL has quite impressive network in this case covering over 4lakh+ villages over fibre links.

Data Centers:
This is where real data lives in!

These are building where web hosting companies/ big content providers etc all co-locate their servers. These datacenters are linked to mostly a “few” ISP’s with reliable fibre links. Servers inside are mostly over Gbps ethernet and sometimes directly over fibre cables itself.

So what’s really problem in above picture in case of India?

Answer is complex!

It varies from technical part, to commercial part. From company to company - all have their own challenges. Technically speaking - last mile is a problem beyond tier 2 cities as quality of copper (mostly BSNL telephone lines) is quite poor.

Most of lines are poorly sliced/managed and have really high noise making it almost impossible to provide high bandwidth after a distance of 1Km. For most of tier 3,4 cities only viable option right now is wireless connectivity. Building a wired network is not possible due to very low ARPU’s making it totally non-feasible.

One thing we need to understand here is - when we talk about rural India, challenge is not to provide 20Mbps connectivity to all, but is to provide with just say ~5Mbps connectivity to few people (demand is still very low).

In cities like Delhi, Chennai - challenge is totally different. Here we have more demand for bandwidth from lot more people. Till now there seems no scalable wireless technology (well, no comments on LTE) to provide everyone with high speed connection. 3G technologies like HSPA etc again are limited due to limited spectrum. Do not expect them to be an alternate to wired broadband specially in big cities.

About wired connectivity in big cities - it’s certainly good. It is possible to have speeds of ~8Mbps for most of users over DSL itself. If you observe ISP’s offering, most of them are actually offering those speeds (8Mbps, 16Mbps & even 24Mbps) but plans are still very expensive.

Why a 8Mbps plan is SO expensive in big cities?

This is all about demand-supply rule - less demand so essentially expensive stuff. We used to pay 16Rs/min for outgoing on cell phone, remember? :)

Carriers like Airtel (who have a good last mile in top 90 cities) don’t see a heavy demand for high speed. In case of State teleco - BSNL, problem remains their International bandwidth cost (apart from poor management, as we all know).

We already have quite good domestic backbone linking almost all districts over high capacity fibre optic links. Domestic backbone is clearly quite good in case of BSNL, and even private telecos who are now laying cables in groups but International bandwidth is a challenge.

In simple - for small ISP’s, International bandwidth is a problem. They can’t give cheap broadband based on what they get themeselves from big players. And in case of big players, fact is - they have spent a few billion $$$ on those big high capacity links and (surely) they want to extract as much returns as they can from their investment.

It seems like this post is going little long, so I decided to break it rest in next part :)

About the author:

Anurag is a Student and a part time network admin at dito.

He is all around network related technologies like DNS, Internet routing, servers, connectivity etc. He is also one of Power Posters at Official Google Apps forum and is involved in deployment of Google Apps.

Anurag is doing bachelors in Information & Technology from a State college in Haryana.

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