The Internet Dilemma



If you are a VSNL Internet subscriber and are accessing a server
hosted/connected for example, on the Dishnet network or vice-versa, it is highly
likely that all traffic will be routed via the US. This is because ISPs in India
are not connected (peered) to each other and there is no Internet exchange
transmitting domestic traffic from one operator to another. In fact, VSNL treats
all other ISP connections on par with international connectivity and bills ISPs
pretty much in accordance with the leased line/port charges for international
(USA) connections.

The result is that almost 85% of the Internet traffic today is international.
In fact, this works as a disadvantage for a web-based service provider to host
the service in India–if the server is hosted on a Satyam network and the
person who accesses the web is a VSNL subscriber, it is likely that two-way
travel of web data is required before reaching the subscriber. If on the other
hand, the server was hosted in USA, it would only require the data to travel one
way to or from USA. As a result, hosting farms have not been successful in India
so far. As servers move to USA, the international traffic from India only
increases.

Almost 85% of the Internet traffic today is international. As servers move to the US, international traffic from India will only increase

Ashok Jhunjhunwala

The problem is intensified because the cost of international leased lines and
port charges is huge¾much beyond the means of ordinary Indians. It is to the
tune of Rs 25 lakh per year for a 1 Mbps one-way link. Accounting for 85%
traffic using an international link and assuming that the uplink usage is only
25% of downlink usage, the cost of a two-way 64 kbps Internet port in India
would have Rs.1.7 lakhs per year as the international transport component. The
cost of access (on a leased line) will be extra. No wonder the port charges in
India for 64 kbps is upward of Rs 2 lakhs. This is too high for even a
middle-sized business, leave alone the small-sized businesses and households.

An implication of this high cost is that even while we curse the low
throughput that we get on a dial-up connection, we cannot even dream of paying
for a 64 kbps link (let alone higher bit-rate connection) at our homes. As this
medium bit-rate connection remains unaffordable to even upper middle-class
homes, serious Internet-based education, commerce and entertainment remains a
dream. While the cost of international bandwidth is likely to fall in the coming
years, even a factor of 2 or 3 reduction is not enough to make this affordable
for homes.

If, on the other hand, local content was located on the domestic network and
a significant port of the traffic confined to the domestic network without using
international circuits, the cost could be substantially lower. After all, as
more and more fiber is getting installed, domestic bandwidth cost is going down.
It is not difficult to imagine that at a cost lower than Rs1000 per month, an
upper middle-class home could get unlimited use of a 64 kbps Internet
connection. Limited use of a 64 kbps Internet connection could be available even
at Rs 500 per month. As this happens, the Internet would indeed become a
powerful tool for people in India.

The key to all this is domestic content and a network such that users can
access this content without international bandwidth. And this would only be the
beginning. Once this happens, what would cry out for attention is the access
network, or the means by which a user can get access to this domestic ‘highway
system’. But this is the subject of another discussion.

Ashok Jhunjhunwala
The author is a professor of electrical engineering and leads the IIT Madras
telecom and computer networks (TeNeT) group. He has driven key developments in
network technology, including wireless systems. He was honored with the
Padmashree this year.

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