Although Spectranet went into business in 2000 and has a presence in eight Indian cities, the broadband services provider has fallen behind younger rivals such as ACT Fibrenet, which is now the third biggest broadband provider in India after Airtel and BSNL. But the company, which is kicking off a rebranding initiative and switching to the name Spectra, aims to focus much more on the consumer segment going forward. The company is ready to step outside of the niche of B2B services for SMBs which had been its core area until now, Udit Mehrotra, CEO and MD Spectra, told Gadgets 360.
Along the way, the company wants to bring some major changes to the way the Internet is being offered to consumers. Spectra believes plans are too confusing, and FUPs are arbitrary and unnecessary, and these are some of the things that it wants to address with its consumer offerings.
"Our approach to customers has been very different - it's been very simple towards the customers," says Mehrotra. "We were the first to productise in B2B and within residential also, we've strived to provide the best to customers, and not just benchmarked to Indian standards."
"Broadband in India is very broken, very archaic and broken," he adds. "It does not provide the required experience, its basically not a good enabler today in digital India. You've got broadband still running on DSL, 512kbps is still broadband, you've still got plans with caps. For example when people talk of unlimited, what they really provide is not really unlimited."
Like ACT, Spectra is also fully a fibre network. It offers customers only four plans to choose from - all of which are at a 100Mbps (symmetrical) speed. Of these, only one comes with an FUP, to provide a "cheaper" option for people who want to spend some time trying out the service, Mehrotra says. Even there, Spectra is offering something interesting - unused data from each month is carried forward to the next month. This is something Airtel is offering for mobile data, but as far as we can tell, Spectra is the first broadband provider to offer this.
Not all of Spectra's existing customers are on these plans yet though, and Mehrotra says that migrating them all is a top priority for the company. According to him, although fibre to the home (FTTH) has been around for a long time, it's only become economically feasible to provide to home customers in the last three years.
"So as a result of that, our presence in the home segment, in the residential areas, is growing only now, and we are adding newer and newer areas," says Mehrotra. In an earlier conversation, ACT told Gadgets 360 that it looks at expansion from one neighbourhood to the next, not one city at a time. "To build in any city, you need a capital commitment of at least Rs. 200 crores," ACT CEO Bala Malladi explained.
Mehrotra didn't comment on the costs involved, but says that Spectra has been gaining experience in building out its network, and that day, it is able to add a locality in about a month. "We covered GK1, GK2, and GK3, and it took us three months to get the whole thing covered," he says, adding, "if you visit our website, we've also mapped out every area, every building covered building by building, and this list is updated every week, so you can very easily just check the site to see if Spectra is available in your building yet."
Although Spectra is currently providing 100Mbps connections, the infrastructure can deliver much greater bandwidth, which is why the company doesn't have to worry about FUPs to maintain Quality of Service (QoS).
"The entire network that we are building - and obviously we are in large cities and building is a never-ending exercise - are very capable of delivering 1Gbps to each customer," says Mehrotra. "Your data requirement is only going to go up, and you want to be with a service provider who is capable of addressing your ever changing requirements, and not just on paper."
We wondered why Spectra is only offering 100Mbps connections, if it can deliver 1Gbps already. However, Mehrotra says that while the hardware is in place, the demand isn't there yet. As of now, only one ISP, ACT in Hyderabad, is giving consumers these speeds, and Mehrotra thinks that this is something that will be needed only further down the line.
"When we launched 100Mbps, people were very skeptical and said they didn't need this - so now we've focused on growing our 100Mbps portfolio, and the upgrades we offer are bundled entertainment services," he says. "But we've also identified a few people and are already giving them a 1Gbps service. This time the approach we are taking is very different to how we rolled out 100Mbps. Soon, in the next couple of months, you'll hear people talk about how they are able to utilise 1Gbps."
"The fibre, the equipment, we can switch on 1Gbps right now," he adds. That said, the Wi-Fi routers that Spectra is providing are not gigabit routers, so you'll need to purchase your own Wi-Fi router. Mehrotra says this is because the people who want those kinds of speeds will also want wired connections to minimise ping for use-cases like gaming.
Of course, the imminent arrival of Jio Fibre could shake things up soon. The company will launch broadband services next, and is said to be providing 100GB data at 100Mbps for free as it’s still testing the service. Calling it a "welcome addition to the market", Mehrotra says that broadband is a small market, and fibre is an even smaller subset of that, so the more the people that talk about it, the better.
Focusing on different use-cases is how Spectra wants to differentiate its offerings to customers. So the two higher tiers of Spectra's offerings have the same speed (and no data caps) as the first unlimited connection, but they come with six, and 11, bundled movies you can download every month via Hungama.
"We are in talks with other content providers too, and in the next couple of weeks onwards we will be able to share more, but if you were to get a Spectra premium service, you already get 11 add-ons, and once we add more, you'll get more add-ons," Mehrotra says. "And when we add more, you will keep getting more value, for the same amount of money."
Tie-ups with content providers - Spectra also uses Netflix's Open Connect Servers to locally cache Netflix, and serve it to customers more quickly - could raise questions about net-neutrality but Mehrotra disagrees.
"We have been a very active contributor to the net neutrality discussions and whole heartedly support net neutrality," he says. "We don't think we should have a say in what you have access to and what you should not. Of course, matters of national security override this statement and there are matters of child safety and security online as well which I believe would also override this, but that's not overriding net neutrality because that's about a service provider deciding if you should have fast access to Google vs fast access to Yahoo."
"That's different from caching which is working towards enhancing a service, rather than deprecating another service," he says. "I want to better my services and provide the customer with the best experience. If Netflix can offer this but someone else cannot, it's not right to give the customer a bad Netflix experience in the name of neutrality. It's a customer first approach."