Opinion

Review: MTNL Broadband

With modest fanfare in January, MTNL, our good old Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, announced that it too would be joining the multitude of ISPs and establish its own Broadband Internet service in the two metros, Mumbai and New Delhi. Around the same time, a little before perhaps, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced that the term "Broadband" shall be defined by a minimum bandwidth of 256 kilobits per second. Although, as expected, this decision of defining Broadband as a quantitative rather than a qualitative measure has drawn some crticism from technology gurus and members of the digerati like myself, it is nonetheless a bit (just a bit, though) forward-looking, given that this ministry, like all other ministries, is a part of the Government of India. The practical upshot of this is that MTNL cannot call anything "Broadband" unless it's 256K, and since it needs that very term to sell its product, the minimum speed you can get on an MTNL Broadband connection is 256Kbps. (However, they do sell connections under the "ADSL" moniker and give 128K lines, even though their "Broadband" is ADSL as well.)

// What is ADSL?

MTNL Broadband uses the ADSL technology. For those uninitiated with this term, allow me to digress for a brief explanation. A little more than half a decade ago, a technology was introduced that allowed phone companies to use their existing PSTN (Public-Switched Telephone Network) lines - i.e., normal phone lines - for providing high-speed Internet access to their customers, and this technology was called DSL or Digital Subscriber Line. This technology enables 8Mbps (or 1MB/s) speeds either way (i.e., upload and download), which is just slightly less than standard 10BaseT Ethernet. There are some profound differences between dial-up connections and DSL, although they both use the same phone lines:
  • A dial-up uses the same range of frequencies as human-audible sound waves do (20Hz to 20KHz). This accounts for the weird screeching noises you hear if you pick up the phone while two computers are talking to each other. And this also leads to the consequence that the phone line cannot be used for making other calls while the 'net is ON.
  • A DSL connection uses inaudible ranges of frequencies, between 200KHz and 1GHz and, with the help of a splitter at the customer end, the DSL and Voice frequencies can be separated. This enables simultaneous use of the same phone line for both DSL and telephonic conversations.
  • A dial-up is always dead-slow, going no faster than 40Kbps even though the theoretical maximum is 56.6Kbps, and in India, it's usually 24Kbps.
  • MTNL Broadband gives between 256 and 288Kbps download and 256Kbps upload speed in reality.
Finally, as you might have noticed, I used the term "ADSL", not "DSL". The A stands for Asynchronous. When they introduced DSL, Internet Service Providers realized something important, and this was the fact that the casual Internet user (you, but not me) only needs to send a small amount of information to web servers (such as requests for web pages or other files) but the web servers need to send a large amount of data down to the user. Hence, ADSL was invented; it allowed the upload and download speeds to be different. The upload speeds are usually set to 56K or something reasonable while the download speeds can go very high, as high as 2Mbps on MTNL's service and as high as 8Mbps theoretically. For both the user and the ISP, this makes the service cheaper and more practical.

// How is MTNL's service?

First of all, when I applied for MTNL's service, they had an offer going on that allowed a person to try their Broadband service for 15 days (or 200MB download) for free without any committment. I saw no point in not taking up on that offer. I called them up on 1500, their booking phone number, and they informed me that they would install the service within the week, at my premises. They were here on the fourth day after the call. The people who arrived were "MTNL lifers" or "very old men who seemed to be falling apart with arthritis", but they installed the service nice and proper, and since they were MTNL lifers, they were patient people, unlike those stupid cablewalas or Spectranetwalas. The Internet service was activated the same day and I was dancing with glee seeing the downloads run from left to right at the promised speed, which was quite fast for me. Also, I've had this connection for a little more than week and a half now, and the service has failed to work only once, during the evening; it was back up and running the next morning. As far as Customer Service is concerned, if you manage to get through to their number (1504, toll-free) and register your complaint, it will be taken care of; they tell you that you'll get a call within 90 minutes from one of their employees, and the great part is that you actually do!

// How much does this thing cost?

Well, let's see. Installation, if you plan to retain the service after the trial period, will cost you around Rs. 1300. All their Broadband plans have "limited downloads", which means that you can download only a certain amount of megabytes every month. Their most inexpensive plan (which you are assigned by default) gets you get 400MB/month for Rs. 400 (Rs. 399 to be accurate). If you download more than that, you pay Rs. 1.20 per extra MB. One of their plans that's attractive for me is their TriB 590NU plan which gives you 500MB/month plus Unlimited downloading between midnight and 8am, for Rs. 590. On top of all these plans, you have to pay an extra Rs. 80 for the rental of the ADSL router and Rs. 100 for 'safe-keeping charges'. So the minimum that you pay per month is Rs. 580 for a 256K line and 400MB of downloads (uploads are not counted, unlike Spectranet which sneakily counts both).

// Some cons

Well, first of all, you need to have an MTNL landline to get this service installed and that is a problem for many people. Secondly, if you want to get something changed, like your Internet plan, you need to submit either a written request at an MTNL Sanchar Haat or send them a fax. This is stupid because, since an official signature and letter wasn't required for the installation of the service, it's very odd that it should be required for just a change of plan. Also, these requests and all will take at least a week to process because MTNL, after all, is a govt. agency. However, even keeping all these things in mind, their service is pretty good. 

Comments (16) Posted on at  

  • » PS:
    MTNL also lets you buy your own ADSL router; in fact, it lists all the compatible routers on its website:
    1. D Link 502 T
    2. Comtrend CT-564
    3. Westell A -90-630199-07
    4. Zyxel Prestige 660 H -61
    5. Erricsson HM410
    6. Xavi(7722+)

    The first in the list is what they give when you rent it from them.
  • » Minor note, there are people, read me, who do actually upload quite a bit thanks to umm ssh connections to bigger faster machines. So in essence ISPs lied.
  • » Why do you upload quite a bit?
  • » In any case, I have made a minor change in the paragraph.
  • » I been a very happy user of Airtel DSL... back when I was in Gurgaon at least.

    Airtel does have have unlimited download plans.... although the unltd plans you could get at best was Home 128 (128kbps). But was cool for me at 800 bucks / month + 100 bucks modem/router rental. Reliable. Good service. Not as bureaucratic as MTNL for stuff like changing plans, an email sufficed.

    It's better to go for the router if you use Linux or some other OS because likelihood is the DSL modem only has windows drivers. And no connecting hassles.
  • » I use a non-Windows computer too. MTNL's router connects using both USB and Ethernet. True, AirTel might be cheaper, but the problem is that its availability is not high. It's not available in a lot of areas in Delhi.
  • » This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  • » hi

    Thanks for your review Karan.

    I have a iBook G4 1.2 Mhz which you just ranted about on your previous post :) I am regretting a bit , although latest upgrade to iBook brings it closer to PBooks.

    BTW, can you guide me on this - is it possible to use Mtnl Broadband with my iBook. My local cablewallah has no clue how to use his service with Apple.He was horrified that there is a comp which does not run .exe file :)

    Thanks

    Rishi
  • » Hey you explained the technology behind ADSL and dialup very well but made some inadvertent errors with the numbers. Dialup has a bandwidth of 300 Hz to 3.3 kHz, not 20-20000 Hz and ADSL uses 200 kHz to 1 MHz or similar, not 1 GHz !!
  • » Wow, I am so glad I found your blog about onelink dsl! I thought onelink dsl wasn't available here until I read this post the whole way through! Thanks again Skaran!
  • » Wow Skaran, I really dig your blog here. I was looking for at&t yahoo! Internet and found this post through the blog search. I am trying to figure out where I can get more information on at&t yahoo! Internet. Great Blog!!!
  • » Wow, I am so glad I found your blog about at&t business dsl! I thought at&t business dsl wasn't available here until I read this post the whole way through! Thanks again Skaran!
  • » this post is an interesting read. I've been reading a ton more blogs and blogging myself much more now that I have 17.99 Verison DSL. 17.99 Verison DSL sure makes running a blog alot faster, you should swing by my site sometime and see if you can get DSL too now that it's cheaper than dialup ($12.99 a month!) WOO HOO!
  • » Wow, I am so glad I found your blog about 21.99 DSL! I thought 21.99 DSL wasn't available here until I read this post the whole way through! Thanks again Skaran!
  • » MTNL is a sister concern company of BSNL and comes under Central Govt... The customer base of MTNL is nearly 5.92 million. And from past few years the graph is going down even if the Indian Govt. is spending too much of huge amount to uplift the customer base, but still the graph is going down and the main reason is their “GREAT SERVICES”. The MTNL lineman don’t have enough idea to configure even a modem and to solve a single complaint they take nearly 1 month or more because the don’t have enough workforce and the coverage area is very big. And when you see the MTNL exchange you become shocked to see their exchange, made of HUWIA equipments, and when you see the AIRTEL exchange you will find Ericson equipments just because the cost of HUWAI equipments are nearly half then Ericson.
    Basically they have two type of exchange one is for 256 Kbps and one for above 256Kbps, if you buy plan for above 256 then you may get good response because for that only they use Ericson exchange.
    I don’t know why the Govt. change the plan to get more customer and spend a huge amount in ads, the salary of lineman is nearly 15000/-, I think this is a total waste. Customers are very much frustrated from MTNL. If you visit the MTNL exchange you will find many customers shouting on the Area Manager. MY personal experience with MTNL was pathetic and now I switched to another services provider and now I am very much satisfied.
  • » Thanks! very informative and very useful to me. I am looking forward for another one! Thanks again!

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