In today’s digital age, a good Internet connection is a must. In fact, many countries have made Internet connectivity a legal right. The Indian government hasn’t made any such provision, but it is keen to get the last mile of the country connected; one of its initiatives dubbed National Optic Fibre Network is a step in that direction. A report by the TRAI last year indicated that the number of broadband subscribers in India was 13.54 million as of February 2012. We are quite sure that the figure would have improved over the past year. In fact, there are several government and private organisations striving to connect the entire country. While connectivity is being taken care of, dismal speeds are still the bane of Internet users all over the country.
The recent successful implementation of Google Fiber in Kansas City, US, which provides blazing fast Internet speeds of 1 gigabit per second, that too at a modest cost of $70 (approximately Rs 3,800) per month, has certainly pushed the envelope for ISPs in the States. For those of us still making do with paltry 1Mbps sonnections, Google Fiber seems like a fantasy straight out of a sci-fi movie. Today, it is quite rare to find someone who is satisfied with the quality of his/her home Internet service. People might choose the best plan provided by the ISP, but their experience will be compromised because of FUP (fair usage policy), downtime, inconsistent speeds and high price. While it may take several years before Google Fiber reaches our shores (if it ever does), we still have some hope thanks to a few ISPs who are now offering Internet speeds over 10Mbps even to home consumers.
Sensing a growing opportunity, several ISPs have started offering high-speed plans to home users. Sandeep Donde, Managing Director, Vovinet, says “With more than one fourth of the Internet-using population in India having speeds below 512Kbps and a minor percentage with more than 5Mbps plans, the Internet speed usage in India is low. Also, the average Internet plan is less than 1Mbps in Mumbai. This provides tremendous potential for providing high speed Internet across the country. In today’s world, there is an increase in the number of devices at home (laptops, mobile phones, tablets etc.) and a desire to continually stay online on social networking sites, among other things. This results in a demand for high speed plans for home users.”
1Mbps Internet plans are popular
Typically, the most popular Internet plan today is 1Mbps, which costs roughly between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000, depending on the ISP. While there is a demand for high-speed Internet plans and there are a few players offering them, the adoption has been rather slow owing to the steep pricing. Matthew Carley, who set up Hayai, reveals “You can get 100mbit/s from a couple of providers, but the prices and restrictions on the services are very unfavourable. For instance, a certain ISP offers 100mbit/s in some parts of South Mumbai, but the limits on the connection don't make it very good proposal and even the upload speeds aren’t up to the mark. Moreover, the pricing doesn't make sense, why would a consumer pay double the price for the same amount of data at a higher speed? A few hundred rupees more, maybe, but not double the price. In case of a certain "unlimited" plan advertised by an ISP, the price per unit goes up from Rs 42/GB to Rs 66/GB. This doesn't make sense; as I am effectively buying in bulk, shouldn't I get a discount on the unit price?”
Carley raises a valid point, however, with deeper Internet penetration, the demand for high-speed plans is bound to grow. As Donde reasons, “As the Internet user market matures further, there will certainly be a demand for higher speed Internet plans and a price reduction will be inevitable. The ARPU (average rate per unit) may stay the same, but the speed requirement would increase.” So while the prices might not go down drastically, what we can expect is higher speeds and higher download limits offered within similar price brackets as we see today.
Apart from price, most of these high-speed Internet plans are currently available only in limited areas where the ISP has a presence. While most of these ISPs offer leased lines to customers residing in areas they do not cater to, the cost of setup to be borne by the customer is quite high. A way out for them is to tie up with other ISPs or local cable operators. But the unorganised nature of the cable industry poses a challenge, as ISPs then have to cater to the whims and fancies of the operators. Carley adds “Cable operators are very territorial and don't like new entrants, so there is the situation where a cable operator might offer ISP A but not ISP B or ISP C. Nobody has ubiquitous coverage and we have a similar situation to what's in the USA—no real competition. The cable operators take a significant chunk of the revenue, in some cases as much as 80 percent of the plan price, which makes it very difficult for an ISP to provide a good service even at a low speed. These revenue sharing issues need to be tackled and something needs to be done about the operators. Either they should be gotten rid of or forced to merge. Only then can the ISPs provide better services, where they would actually have to compete on quality of service rather than who offers a given speed for 10 rupees cheaper than the other guy.”
Does your Internet speed feel like this?
Another possibility is open access networks, something which Gurgaon-based telecom infrastructure firm Radius Infratel is attempting. Radius is implementing Neutral Access Network Operations (NANO) technology, whereby any number of service providers can simultaneously provide any number of services through a single fibre without losing their individual identities. According to news reports, they have partnered with real estate developers including DLF, Emaar MGF, Paramount and Unitech to be a part of the fibre optic network, which will enable them to provide high-speed Internet services in the projects being developed by them. Courtesy their fibre optic network, ISPs can provide Internet speeds up to 1Gbps. While the firm claimed that the network is already available in over 300,000 homes in Delhi and its neighbouring areas of Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, they weren’t forthcoming about the details of the service providers. They also plan to expand services to other cities including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune and Chandigarh.
Players and plans
Despite a decent number of players in the Indian market offering high-speed Internet plans today, the average Internet speed in the country remains roughly around 1Mbps. We asked a random sample of Mumbai residents about their Internet speed, and most of them seemed content with their 1 or 2Mbps plans at roughly Rs 1,000 per month. This doesn't mean there is a dearth of high-speed plans, but they are too expensive for many to consider seriously. Here are some of the high-speed plans offered by popular players in Mumbai.
The table shows high-speed plans in India
To begin with, MTNL offers several high-speed Internet plans. The 10Mbps Fiber Thrill unlimited plans range from Rs 790 to Rs 2,290 per month. The price varies depending on the data consumed due to the fair usage policy. The lowest of these plans costs Rs 790 per month (or fixed yearly charges of Rs. 8,690) for 10Mbps down and 5Mbps up speeds up to 12GB. Thereafter, download and upload speeds are capped at 512Kbps. On the higher end, you will have to pay Rs 2,290 for 10Mbps down and 5Mbps up speeds up to 150GB, with downloads capped at 1Mbps and uploads at 512Kbps thereafter. It also has a 20Mbps Fiber Thrill plan that offers 20Mbps downloads and 10Mbps uploads up to 150GB, with the download speed set at 1.344Mbps and upload speed at 1Mbps beyond that. Click here for the complete list of FTTH (Fiber to the Home) plans by MTNL.
Another major player is Tata Docomo, with unlimited plans ranging from 10Mbps up to 100Mbps. Its 10Mbps plan priced at Rs 1,699 has a 50GB FUP limit. It provides a download speed of 10Mbps and upload speed of 1Mbps (post FUP the download speed is reduced to 512Kbps). It also has a variation of this plan priced at a whopping Rs 3,333 per month with a 50GB data limit and every additional MB charged at 20 paise. Here’s the complete list.
Tata Indicom also offers Lightning and Lightning Plus high-speed Internet plans of 10Mbps, 20Mbps and 100Mbps. The 10Mbps plan has a 10GB usage limit, 10Mbps download speed, 2Mbps upload speed and costs Rs 1,950. On the other hand, the Lightening 10Mbps Plus plan offers 10Mbps downloads, 1Mbps uploads and 50GB of bandwidth for Rs 3,500. However, users will be charged 40 paise per MB post the FUP limit. Take a look at the Lightning plans here.
Airtel, on the other hand, is offering 8Mbps plans starting at Rs 1,599. This plan has an FUP limit of 30GB, beyond which the speed will be reduced to 512Kbps. The same plan with an FUP limit of 80GB costs Rs 2,099. You can look up the various plans here. Reliance has listed its unlimited high-speed plan as Broadband Freedom and offers 12Mbps for Rs 999 with a 25GB FUP limit. After the limit has been crossed, the speed will be downgraded to 512Kbps.
Besides these, there are other players who are offering uber-high-speed Internet connections. One such private service provider is YouBroadband, with plans ranging from 12Mbps to 25Mbps in some areas of some cities. Their 12Mbps plan starts at Rs 1,212 per month with an FUP of 25GB. Another private player, Vovinet, offers 8Mbps and 16Mbps plans with and without FUP. Its cheapest 16Mbps plan has a 40GB FUP limit (with speed capped at 2Mbps thereafter) is priced at Rs 1,700, whereas the 16Mbps unlimited plan without FUP will cost Rs 3,300.
Then there’s Joister, which is offering 16Mbps and 20Mbps FTTH (Fiber to the home) connections for Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 per month respectively. And what's more, these are unlimited plans without any FUP limit. They cover most areas of the western, central and harbour lines of Mumbai. Another player, Hayai, also provides FTTH connections starting at 25Mbps for Rs 4,007 per month, going all the way up to 1,000Mbps for Rs 9,736 per month. Hayai emphasises that customers must choose plans based on their actual data usage and not simply opt for the cheapest plan—unlike other providers, Hayai does not reduce users' speeds but warns them as they reach their thresholds. Users will be then asked to restrict their usage or upgrade to a higher data plan.
What do you think about the current Internet scenario in India? Have you been using any of these high-speed Internet plans? Do let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.
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