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January 29, 1998


Dial M for Murder

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MTNL's free-call Internet access service could kill all competition.

The Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited has a secret weapon that may give it the edge over prospective Internet service providers.

The phone company's ISP plans for this year include introduction of toll-free dialling.
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MTNL General Manager of Marketing and Public Relations K J Chacko says there is a strong possibility that MTNL would offer toll-free access to Internet users. That is, it would not charge for the telephone tariff while a subscriber is connected to the Web.

Today, users have to pay the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited for Internet connectivity and the MTNL for telephone connectivity to the international gateway.

However, cable operators are also vying for the Internet service business and hold the promise to bypass MTNL's telephone network altogether. But the cable modem technology and its economics are yet to be tested.

Chacko points out that even if the cable modem technology becomes feasible and "cable operators bypass MTNL, they would still be limited by cable connectivity, unlike in our case where we would be in a position to provide Internet access to all our telephone subscribers".

He claimed that with the Department of Telecommunications setting up high-capacity lines, whereby all ISPs would be connected, Internet tariff would prove to be much cheaper.

Many others, including the Indian Railways, the PowerGrid Corporation and even oil majors, have shown interest in providing Internet services based on the type of infrastructure and connectivity they have.

The MTNL has major expansion plans to provide its subscriber base with the latest possible in telecommunications as it aims to become "the telecom supermarket, a one-stop shop for all telecom needs before the turn of the century", claimed Chacko.

By 1998-99, MTNL is confident that the entire system would be 100 per cent digital.

Credit card companies have already shown interest in MTNL's intelligent network services.

The ISDN, the 'integrated services digital network', has spearheaded in providing all the possible service from voice, data and image transmission over the telephone line through the telecom network.

MTNL has been able to provide ISDN services to 11 cities in India, including Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur and Ranchi.

Plans are afoot to expand the services to other cities shortly. Further, ISDN would also be made available to corporate houses having an EPABX facility, pending finalisation of the tariff.

Together with VSNL, MTNL proposes to provide cellular mobile telephone service in the financial heart of the country, Bombay, and the capital city of Delhi.

Existing cellular service operators have, however, moved the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to not allow the MTNL to provide cellular telephony. The next hearing in the case has been advanced to February 4.

Unwilling to admit that the charges could possibly be less than that of the existing cellular operators, Chacko said that the MTNL and the VSNL would have the edge, considering that they have the infrastructure, connectivity and trained personnel in place.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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