Are you in the market for a broadband connection? Getting flabbergasted by the innumerable Internet plans offering varied* Internet speeds - with that asterisk leading to terminologies you barely understand? The truth is that you are not alone. Finding a consistent, high-speed Internet connection without burning a hole in one’s pocket has become quite a task these days.
For Indians living in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities, the daily requirements are now such that you need a high-speed Internet connection; if you're a photographer who needs up upload a portfolio, a parent working from home who needs to access the company's server on the cloud, an entrepreneur with an Internet-based startup working to carve a niche, a seller who needs to upload products to e-commerce websites, or even a student who wants to spend time on social media, play games, or download torrents - your requirements can be anything and everything.
To ensure that you are aware of exactly what you are getting from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) as a part of your subscription plan, here’s a list of four key things that you should know and consider before you take any decision. With aggressive advertising by ISPs offering various subscription plans, it is easy to get confused. Fret not and read on.
1. Fibre vs. copper cable
Wired broadband with copper cable is very common in India and is typically offered along with a fixed landline connection by the ISP. It is a fairly old technology (called DSL) dating back to the years when the lines were only supposed to transmit voice.
There have been several advancements in this technology (ADSL, VDSL. VDSL2+ etc). However, even with the latest advancement, the upload speed you can get is between 5Mbps and 10Mbps, and download speeds range between 15Mbps and 70Mbps, and that too with fluctuations.
The launch of fibre cables has initiated a new era in the country with far superior bandwidth. So, you should opt for a Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) i.e. fibre broadband connection, which is built for data transmissions and offers high-speed Internet, often at the same or lower rates, depending on the ISP.
Most ISPs intend to cover all Tier-1 & Tier-2 cities with fibre optic cables by the end of this year. Technologically speaking, the core of a fibre cable is made of glass, which is an insulator so it is immune to many environmental factors such as temperature, noise, or electromagnetic interference, which affect copper cables. It is lightweight, thin, secure and more durable. The transmission losses are also drastically reduced with fibre cables so, it ensures faster data transmission and is less error prone.
2. Broadband usage limits
In India, most of the "unlimited" broadband plans are regulated with bandwidth caps, or Fair Usage Policy (FUP). This is usually mentioned upfront, but you want to find out whether your ISP is counting both upload and download usage, as this varies from provider to provider.
If an ISP is counting upload usage as well, you might not have downloaded anything, but simply sharing photos and videos on social media could lead to using up your data limits. It's important to know this before choosing any Internet plan - consider both your upload and download requirements, before selecting a provider and plan that is suitable for you.
3. Contention ratio
While speed and FUP are usually mentioned upfront, contention radio is usually not. However, it is a key metric that measures the maximum number of users that can concurrently share the fixed bandwidth on a line. So, despite opting for a high-speed Internet connection, if the number of such users accessing it is large, it means that the contention ratio is high, and thus the resultant Internet speed per user will also often be less.
For instance, if the contention ratio is 1:8 then up to 8 people may simultaneously share the bandwidth. In the recent past, as the number of users in India started multiplying at a rate faster than the available infrastructure, the quality of connection and Internet speeds have suffered. Most India ISPs presently offer a contention ratio of 1:30.
4. Upload speeds
Another important detail that is usually glossed over is the upload speed of your connection. The advertised Internet speeds in India are almost always applicable for downloads only.
The term symmetric speed refers to an Internet connection offering equal upload and download speeds. A decade ago, people used Internet primarily for downloading. That's still important if you're watching a movie on Netflix or reading the news on your favourite websites.
But these days, people are just as likely to upload content to the Internet, whether it's for gaming, social media (with photos, videos, and audio clips), work related uploads of large documents, or even to make voice or video calls via the Internet. In all these scenarios, upload speeds are as important to the consumer as the download speeds.
For consumers, switching to fibre will help with better and more reliable connectivity, a 1:1 contention ratio, and symmetric upload speeds, and with growing competition, you should have multiple options to choose from.
Irrespective of the fact that you are already using a broadband or will be purchasing a connection for the first time, it’s best to get acquainted with the terminologies of your Internet plan to make the best out of it. Do your research, and you can easily find an ISP offering the plan that's most suitable to your requirements, with terms and conditions that you can't comprehend.
Prasanna Gokhale is the CTO, ACT Fibernet.