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September 2, 1997


ERNET engineers blame VSNL for outage

Over 50,000 ERNET subscribers were pushed off the network when it collapsed last week.

ERNET is the Department of Telecommunications' subsidised network which connects educational and research institutions across the country and also puts them on to the Internet.

ERNET was down for over three days and was only partially restored, late on August 26.

ERNET administrators have blamed the fiasco on the government-controlled overseas communication corporation, the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.

They said that the VSNL, which provides linkage, is trying to undermine the network in pursuit of commercial gains by servicing private and MNC software companies.

From Saturday and right through Monday, ERNET was down, affecting email services and thereby the institutions. The links were restored partially but there is no guarantee that the network will function smoothly.

By the end of last year, ERNET, whose growth has been nurtured by a band of dedicated engineers at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, was suffering from bandwidth limitations thanks to the VSNL's tight hold on such matters.

ERNET could not therefore provide easy access to the Internet for its fast-growing VSAT network. The proposal to increase the existing bandwidth into the Internet backbone (a 128 kbps satellite channel operated by a US company) were not only denied by the DoT, but ERNET was even obliged to surrender its existing connection and obtain Internet access via VSNL, Bangalore.

Having experienced VSNL's problems in the past in providing reliable Internet access, ERNET users, especially in such institutions as the IITs, IIMs and IISc were extremely apprehensive about the enforced change. However, as the link offered by VSNL was substantially larger (two megabits versus the earlier 128 kilobits), there was some hope that, after the teething problems, Internet access would improve.

April, this year, saw the commissioning of the 2 megabit radio link between Bangalore's prestigious Electronics City where ERNET's satellite earth station is located and VSNL's gateway located in the heart of the city. Traffic moved significantly smoother in the next few weeks. Then, mysterious failures began to plague the ERNET.

Investigations revealed a startling fact: the link outages usually happened when it rained or when there were gusty winds.

It became a standard joke among ERNET administrators to notify its users that 'Due to heavy rains in Bangalore your email delivery will be delayed'.

VSNL engineers blamed the transmission tower for being unstable.

ERNET administrators pointed out that half a dozen other radio links leased by private software majors were using the same tower without any difficulties. The problem they, pointed out, was sloppy installation of the radio link by VSNL's sub-contractor.

Three weeks ago, VSNL Chairman B K Syngal was approached by ERNET users to rectify the problems and he reportedly agreed. But the failures continue to hit ERNET.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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