happnin'      Net Bits - Connecting to the Internet

Using the Internet the world over can be fraught with obstacles. A dial-up account with a major international provider can give you access in most countries if you:

1. Have access to a phone line
2. Have the correct telephone plug adaptor
3. Can get your modem to understand the tones of the country you are in

One of the easiest ways of coping with dial-up problems is not to dial-up. In most of Asia there are plenty of cheap public access Internet shops and cafes (although they rarely serve coffee). The more friendly sometimes let you plug in to their hub if they have one, otherwise bring a floppy.

One of the countries that is a particularly hit or miss affair is India. There are no POPs for any international ISPs. No AOL, no AT&T, no IBM, no Compuserve, no MSN, no nothing. The is one national ISP - VSNL (virtual snail I named it) and the whole of India's internet community is dialed up to it. ISDN is extremely rare (and too expensive) and leased lines are practically unheard of (I only ever encountered one 64Kbps line). There are a couple of smaller providers offering dial-up access but they lease their bandwidth from VSNL so it amounts to the same thing.

So here's the story for India, you go into your average Internet shop and someone dials up to one of VSNL's few access numbers, on the forth attempt (usually) they login and launch a browser. Practically everyone uses hotmail so this is inevitably set as a home page. We found a good webmail site that can retrieve POP mail from just about every UK provider (www.twigger.co.uk), very handy. You're then left to yourself and the clock starts counting…
India is quite cheap, 90 - 120 rupees (£1.20 -£1.80) per hour which sounds OK but here's where it gets frustrating:
The local modem connection to the POP is the first hurdle, out of the city the old analog lines are BAD, you can get up to 19,200 bps but 9,600 bps is more usual to avoid the line dropping constantly. One place we visited could only make a 4,800 bps connection, I was horrified.

Anyway, once you've made it to past the local POP you're routed on to the main provider VSNL, and a few hops up here is where you hit the next major hurdle. The whole of VSNL's traffic joins ALTERNET's backbones via just one E1 link. I verified this from all over India and it all goes through the same route. Ping times through here soar up to 2000-3000 ms and essentially this is why India is crawling on the net so far. Until some other providers appear or until VSNL improve their infrastructure the situation will probably worsen.

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