Review: MTNL BroadbandWith 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.
// 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.