Rediff Logo Infotech Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
September 29, 1998


Asia Pacific Software Showcase
Asia Pacific Software Showcase

Lines is the point: VSNL's slammed doors on new Net customers. 'Undercapacity,' they say. 'Quibbling with MTNL,' says Rediff. Priya Ganapati in Bombay

The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited is the state-owned ISP monopoly, the only organisation that ordinary people can approach for Internet connectivity.

Email this story to a friend. But, for the last month and a half, VSNL has been turning away customers seeking new Internet accounts in Bombay. Undercapacity is its excuse.

Lines is the point
Gujarat's IT policy
BFL goes to US, Japan
Yet, when Rediff scratched the surface of that 'excuse', a tale of quibbling between VSNL and MTNL unravelled. The MTNL, or the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, is another state monopoly and its domain is Bombay and New Delhi's basic telephony network.

VSNL's undercapacity excuse is reasonable to the point that it really does not have enough MTNL lines to meet the explosive demand of a nation discovering the online world.

But the real reason for the missing lines is lost somewhere among the volley of accusations that VSNL and MTNL are exchanging.

VSNL Deputy General Manager V N Sharma charges, "We are trying for more lines from MTNL. But they are not giving it. We have made the payment for the lines. There is a delay at their end."

MTNL Chief General Manager Ramani Iyer is polite. "Let's take a more practical view of things. We should not trade charges, but the truth is VSNL does not have the equipment like routers ready. Even if we provide the lines they may not be ready with the equipment."

It is now Sharma's turn and he puts up a brave front. "At present whatever server we have is only to cater to the external modem facility. But we have imported some new equipment to cope with the new and different situation. We are testing the equipment and whatever is okay we are putting to use."

Sharma explains that, "The Internet traffic goes to MTNL's exchanges from where it is routed to VSNL. But this has created a lot of problems because the exchanges are not able to handle it. We have asked for a direct 2 MBPS link between the exchanges and the VSNL. We are now in the process of implementing 171 streams (of such 2MBPS links) to ease the problem."

For the uninitiated, each of these 2 MBPS links is equivalent to the capacity of 30 telephone lines.

Now it is Iyer's chance to counter tech-talk with more tech-talk. "Initially VSNL had about 40 PCMs (pulse code modulation lines). Each PCM has 20 channels. So they have a capacity of about 1,000 lines. But now we are planning to provide 171 PCMs that will increase their capacity from 1,000 to over 5,000 lines," he gushes.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that VSNL has already paid MTNL for the capacity that it has not received. And it is another matter that the cheque said Rs 120 million!

Iyer refuses to be dragged into finances. "I do not know much about the money as it is not dealt with at my level. I think the money was paid one month ago. But I don't think that is the point. Even if they had not paid the money we would have given the lines as we could have recovered the money later," he claims.

Sharma is not impressed. He does not want to ruffle feathers, but given the circumstance diplomacy would be a task for even Dag Hammarskjold.

"We have paid money to get 171 streams from MTNL. I cannot, however, say anything about the status of the streams. I do not want to say they have given the lines, but I don't want to say they have not given the lines either," Sharma fumbles.

Iyer will not tolerate the falling of a shadow on MTNL's intentions. "We have given around 70 to 80 PCMs and the other are in various stages of completion. It cannot be done in one day. The PCMs have to be physically done. But the wiring for them has not yet been done by VSNL," he thunders.

And even as the arguments continue, Bombayites can only marvel at the VSNL Helpdesk's nerves of steel. "The servers of VSNL are full," they repeat with unwavering monotony. Further assurance comes only from other executives: "You will get your account probably by the second week of October."

You may ask why not put more customer accounts on existing lines? Why refuse new customers?

Sharma, who concerns himself with customer services, claims the decision of not allowing new accounts arises from VSNL's commitment to its existing customers.

"Internet connections can be given only if you have proper number of lines for customers to dial in. The demand is increasing but we are not getting lines from MTNL. What is the use of giving Internet connections if you cannot provide proper customer service?" Sharma reasons.

Today VSNL has a line to customer ratio of 1:15. There are mounting complaints about difficulty in logging on and then maintaining the connection for more than five to ten minutes.

Even former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao cribbed about these problems at the India Internet World event in New Delhi last month.

Sharma acknowledges: "We were getting a lot complaints from our existing customers that they are unable to connect. More and more people are threatening to go to the consumer courts over these problems so we decided not to give any connections till we improve our service."

At the India Internet World conference Amitabh Kumar, officiating chairman and managing director of VSNL, had told a select audience that the telephone exchanges of MTNL were ill equipped to handle Internet traffic.

Sharma elaborates on this. "MTNL has normal telephone lines meant for a one-minute call. But on the Net people hold it for one to six hours. The exchanges are therefore overburdened and unable to give service. This is affecting Internet services," he claims.

Another problem is uneven density. Sharma explains that VSNL has nearly 40,000 Internet customers that are served through the two telephone exchanges of Prabhadevi in central Bombay and Flora Fountain that is more downtown.

A defiant Iyer dismisses these theories. "Each exchange has some capacity. You cannot send all voice traffic or all Internet traffic through it. Earlier VSNL was taking the traffic through two to three exchanges, causing a problem in the network. Please note that the problem is with the total network, including routers, and all the equipment and not just the exchange," he defends.

Sharma assures that "The matter is now with the minister (of telecommunications), Sushma Swaraj. Everyday we are reporting to the minister. Things are moving and we expect that in another eight to ten days things will be cleared up."

In contrast, Iyer is evasive about the meetings with the communications minister. "I was not present at the meetings so I do not know anything about them. But we had a co-ordination meeting with the VSNL officials on September 18. There was a co-ordination meeting in Delhi too," is all he will reveal.

In the meantime, the customers have found their own way to the online universe. The solution is simple. Over four people log on to the same account simultaneously! That again means congestion, which VSNL is trying to avoid by not issuing new accounts in the first place. A full circle cannot be drawn more elegantly.

Tell us what you think