Home Internet connection problems and solutions in Puttaparthi and Pune: Individual experiences of around a decade

Last updated on 6th Jun 2017

This post came about through a mail conversation I had on a recent post of mine, My BSNL Broadband (landline) speedtest: 6.6 Mbps, https://ravisiyer.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/my-bsnl-broadband-landline-speedtest-6-6-mbps/. A Pune, India, based correspondent (referred to as PuneC hereafter) and I (Ravi), who am based in Puttaparthi, India, had a long exchange where we shared our experiences with Internet connection problems and solutions over a period of around a decade. I have given below a modified version of that mail exchange.

PuneC wrote:
Your experience with BSNL seems generally fairly good. [Ravi: BSNL is the public sector/govt. owned Telephone giant company of India. Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance are private telecom companies in India (and abroad). end-Ravi]

My experience was so poor that after 10+ years I decided I had had enough. The line was down frequently, I rarely got the promised speed (download was between 1-3 MB at the best times, below 1MB most of the time).

BSNL is hopeless in dealing with complaints. ”Talk to so-and-so in your exchange,” “You should see XX in the main office — he’ll sort out your problem,” etc. I made many visits to different offices, met different people, was promised improvements but none came. Government-run agencies are no good at dealing with customers — they have not got over the feeling that they are doing you a favour in giving you any service at all!

My experience is limited to the Koregaon Park exchange in Pune. It is possible that those connected to other exchanges in Pune have different, possibly better, experiences.

I finally gave up and switched to Airtel 4G wireless wifi in December. It is far better and gives me 5MB download speed most of the time. It does have blackout periods from time to time (so I need a backup and use a Vodafone 3G dongle). And it is more expensive: about Rs.2660 per month for 25GB download (there are cheaper plans for smaller download limits). It is not flawless by any means but it operates for most of the time. I wonder how well it will work in the rainy season (and will soon find out!).
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Ravi responded:
Well, I got onto BSNL landline Internet service perhaps close to a decade ago in Puttaparthi. In 2006/2007 BSNL landline was the ONLY Internet option for Puttaparthi residents, if I recall correctly. There were no other landline options and I don’t think there were any, or at least any reasonably priced, Mobile Internet options in Puttaparthi then.

I too faced quite a few issues with my BSNL landline Internet connection. Initially I got pretty frustrated with lack of proper responses from BSNL Puttaparthi people. However, my Puttaparthi life experience from Oct. 2002 kicked in, and I realized that like in so many other things in small town Puttaparthi, the supplier was King and the consumer had to not only pay the supplier for products & services but also be polite to the supplier and try to work with the supplier for improved product/services. That approach with BSNL Puttaparthi paid off. Over time, I got to understand the typical causes of failure or poor connection quality/speed in my particular case (but which would apply to others too, I guess). I thought I should capture them as they may be useful for others too. They were and, some still are, as follows:

a) Rain and wind disturbing the wire joining my landline connection to the BSNL main cable line. The lineman was the key person who had to simply open the join, clean it up and join it again.

b) In the initial years, the main BSNL cable line was not of good enough quality for Internet data traffic. So the connection quality was frequently not good enough. Later it was replaced by a thick copper cable which was better suited for Internet Data traffic. See the BSNL Telephone/Internet cable photograph below that I took from my apartment flat sitout/balcony today. Monkeys, who visit Puttaparthi town quite frequently, use this cable as a kind of ropeway to cross over the field next to my building!

04062016-BSNLTelCable

Above pic: BSNL Telephone/Internet Cable going to Ravi’s apartment building

I have also given below a BSNL Telephone Tower photo that I took today from my apartment flat balcony/sitout again, where you can see the BSNL Telephone tower next to the pink building. The tower is at the exchange and so you can see that the cable distance from the exchange to my building is not much. Perhaps that helps in better landline broadband quality. The tower itself would not impact the landline broadband quality – I mentioned it as it shows the location of the telephone exchange.

04062016-BSNLTelTower.jpg

Above pic: Puttaparthi BSNL Telephone Tower next to pink building

c) Some of the slots in the main telephone exchange equipment (board?) that the landlines were connected to, had some issues leading to connection drops and the DSL signal not coming up (on the modem). I learned this from some interactions I had with the JTO (Junior Telecom Officer?) who was the main technical man handling the Internet connections at the exchange (and perhaps voice connections too). My politeness and willingness to work with the JTO (and spending fair amount of time with him on the occasions where I had trouble) paved the way for the JTO to share this info. with me. So I would request that my line was not connected to any of the problem slots. Further, if I started facing weird connection problems I would check whether my line was connected to a problem slot (just in case they had changed it). Note that the JTO changes every few years.

d) Initially I got caught up in the pass-the-buck game between the lineman and the JTO for any Internet connection problem I faced. I later learned that the lineman was the guy who was responsible to remove any audible noise I heard on the telephone line (audible noise was a clear indicator of poor landline connection which would negatively impact Internet data transmission). So I would insist on the lineman ensuring no/limited audible noise on the telephone line. Further, if the DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) light did not come up on the modem then the probability was high that the problem was at the Telephone exchange and so the JTO was the person who should look into the problem and fix it. But if the DSL light did come up but the connection quality was poor (lots of disconnects or poor speed) then it could be a line quality problem which the lineman should look into. After I gained this knowledge I was largely successful in avoiding getting caught up in a pass-the-buck game between the lineman and JTO for any Internet connectivity problem that I was facing. Of course, I also went the extra mile to “remember” the lineman on Dassera day every year :-).

e) Sometimes the main server (a few years ago it was at Anantapur or Kurnool) of BSNL handling Internet traffic from Puttaparthi would be down. Then one just had to wait till it came back up (usually it would be back up within a day).

f) Using a splitter from the telephone line to split the line into a voice line for the telephone and a data line for the modem was recommended.

g) I figured out the modem configuration part. I had a strange problem of my BSNL supplied modem automatically changing the username to multiplay (instead of my username) which resulted in Authentication failure with the ISP (BSNL). Others too have faced this problem; see http://www.raveeshkumar.com/2009/04/bsnl-dsl-router-username-reset-problem.html OR http://ccm.net/forum/affich-411436-bsnl-modem-dna-a211-i-ppp-username-reset-prob. Understanding some of the modem configuration settings and diagnostics helped me to troubleshoot problems and understand whether they were modem related or NOT modem related.

h) Another learning was that sometimes the BSNL Internet connection would be working but BSNL DNS servers would be down. So browser requests using url names would fail as the DNS was not available to convert url names to IP addresses. If one changed the configuration to use the apparently more reliable Google Open DNS servers (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) that solved the BSNL DNS server down related Internet browsing problem. For more see http://www.bsnlteleservices.com/2015/05/bsnl-dns-server-address-ip-broadband-speed.html and https://developers.google.com/speed/public-dns/.

i) In the past few years the 1500 complaint line for BSNL broadband is excellent. It provides a 24 hour (at least on working days) response to complaint. I think it also creates some statistics issue for the local BSNL exchange persons as they request me to contact them directly instead! So from the early years where I had to make quite some effort to catch the Telephone exchange people to report and look into my Broadband problem, nowadays they want me to call them up (instead of me logging a complaint with 1500 BSNL complaint line)! That is a refreshing change. I think these changes may have been prompted by management policy changes as BSNL realized that landline phone calls revenue was dropping and that mobile and Internet were the revenue sources to be pursued.
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I can understand your poor experience with BSNL at Pune, and your disappointment with the way they handle complaints. But you somehow managed to endure them for 10+ years! Perhaps you too did not have convenient alternatives in the past.

I am glad to know that you are getting 5 Mbps speed on your Airtel 4G Mobile Internet service! Noted the price of Rs. 2660 per month for 25 GB download limit. Here’s a related Feb. 2016 article, Airtel 4G Internet Speed Test Review, http://trak.in/2014/airtel-broadband-4g-speed-test-review/, that seems to give an average of 8 Mbps speed in Pune (your city) with a 4G dongle (USB).

Over time, mobile Internet services became available in Puttaparthi from multiple vendors – BSNL, Airtel and Reliance have been and still are the major mobile Internet service providers in Puttaparthi. I am not well versed with mobile Internet services in Puttaparthi as I have very rarely used it via my Nokia E-52 phone as a backup when my landline broadband fails. I recall that when I connect my Nokia E-52 phone to the PC and use it to connect to the Internet, I get a popup showing the speed as 460 Kbps. I did not bother about that speed as it was a backup mechanism for a day or two max. before the landline broadband got fixed.

But I did some browsing just now to get more info. on it. BSNL 3G speeds have been reported to be 7.24 Mbps download and 1.78 Mbps upload by a user located in Bangalore in Oct. 2014; see post towards bottom of the 1st page here: https://broadbandforum.co/threads/what-is-the-maximum-speed-for-bsnl-3g-networks.75936/. Here’s another related link: http://trak.in/tags/business/2011/03/18/real-3g-speeds-mbps-india/.

So my BSNL mobile speed of 460 Kbps (if I got that correctly), is low!!! The handset shows 3.5G in the display and so the connection is used as a 3G (or 3.5G) connection and not lower speed 2G. But why then is the speed low? If I get the time or the inclination I will investigate this.
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PuneC responded:
>> Airtel … an average of 8 Mbps speed in Pune (your city) with a 4G dongle

Depends very much on your location. I am fortunate in getting any 4G signal at all (mine is a little weak) and someone two kilometres away gets no signal. The man who installed the dongle at my flat said the speed depended on the strength of the signal — mine shows one bar and a good signal would have three bars.

[Ravi: That aspect should have struck me. Hmm. Then you are really fortunate to get an average speed of 5 Mbps. This is a strong downside of mobile Internet which perhaps balances out its strong upside of very easy setup, config & maintenance (as compared to landline broadband).

Recently I was speaking to a Puttaparthi mobile services shop guy. While such guys may be pretty weak theoretically and from understanding specifications point of view, sheer experience gives them a lot of know how. He was telling me about how tricky the signal strength issue in Puttaparthi is when it comes to buying/using a wireless dongle/pod. He talked of a foreign customer who had bought an Airtel 3G USB dongle from him for around Rs. 2000/- but returned it to him as he found signal reception to be poor at the place where he was staying in Puttaparthi. He asked the shopkeeper to offer it to somebody else for Rs. 1500/- (in which case he will lose only Rs. 500/-).

The shopkeeper advised me that before I buy a wireless dongle/pod for mobile Internet – I was considering Reliance or Airtel as a preferred alternative Internet service, as I already had BSNL landline and BSNL mobile phone – I should check the signal strength in my flat for the mobile services company I was considering (say Reliance or Airtel) by using some friend’s phone which uses that mobile service provider. He also said that the distributor guy for Reliance or Airtel wireless dongle/pod could be asked to visit my flat though I got the impression that that would be a little cumbersome to arrange. Note that typically such distributor persons are not based in Puttaparthi and have to travel an hour or two by road from Anantapur or other nearby cities that they typically are based in, to service Puttaparthi customers. end-Ravi]

As I said, Airtel does have blackouts with their 4G transmission and their server. It is more stable now than a few months back but it can fade out for a few hours with no notice.

Re: BSNL, I was always very polite, helpful and showed interest in their work. They willingly came to our flat from the local exchange to check things out. But their infrastructure is basically poor: bad lines, poor junction boxes etc. That will not change in a hurry. They advertise Fibre-to-home but that is not available in our part of Pune.

By the way, in Kochi a friend used to climb on a ladder to the junction box on nearby wall to fix the connection of his link! He said it was very hard to get the BSNL people to visit so he now does this much himself.

[Ravi: My God! This is quite interesting. It never has come to that for me in Puttaparthi as the BSNL guys would always come around even in the past, within a day or two of the complaint being made. end-Ravi]

I was impressed by the detailed analysis you made of the BSNL service. I am curious to know how much of the download volume charged to you is actually useful information and how much is BSNL overhead. For example, there will be repeated transmissions if the line is poor: I assume the consumer pays for all the bits that come across the line, irrespective of this.

[Ravi: I think your assumption is right. Some of the trade practices followed by BSNL (including redirects in browser everytime the modem is switched on or automatically reset; see http://telecomtalk.info/bsnl-redirecting-broadband-users-mail-bsnl-in/143602/, as well as popups in the browser perhaps through injected JavaScript code; see http://www.medianama.com/2016/05/223-bsnl-injecting-banner-ads-broadband/) come across to me as quite questionable. I guess they must be getting squeezed by the competition and so are doing, and perhaps overdoing, all sorts of marketing and maybe worse tricks to win more users and earn extra money.

BTW I also wanted to add that around a year ago a private landline/cable as well as wireless Internet provider started these services in Puttaparthi. He claims to have a few towers! I have spoken to the main guy, a youngster, quite a bit over the past year or two. He started with PC, laptop, computer accessories, UPS … sales & service.

As the Internet cable service of his is around for a year (though I have not talked to any customer of his), I guess he has shown that he is in the business for the long term in Puttaparthi. I don’t know who is the underlying Internet Service Provider for him. I mean, he will have to connect to some big ISP’s servers to provide Internet service to his Puttaparthi customers. Does he use Airtel or Reliance OR are there other big ISP players in India who do not come directly to the customer but go through front end businesses like this young man’s small business in Puttaparthi? end-Ravi]
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PuneC responded:
By the way, an Airtel representative came to my flat and tried out the device in different places before he said it would work for me. That seems to be their normal practice (at least here). The dongle works in one room (fortunately where I want to keep the wifi transceiver) and not in most of the rest of the flat.

The Airtel wifi dongle-cum-transceiver is powerful and from one corner room covers most of our flat (which the earlier wifi transceivers did not). In principle, you can take out the 4G SIM and use it in your mobile telephone (assuming it is 4G enabled). I have not tried that.
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Ravi responded:
Interesting info. Thanks. The transceiver being placed at a location where it gets best signal quality which the transceiver through WiFi makes (Internet) accessible over most of the entire flat, is a pretty convenient solution.

As I went out in the late evening I dropped in at the private Internet Broadband services shop in Puttaparthi. The main guy (owner) was not present but an assistant (younger relative of his, if I recall correctly) was present. I got the flyer shown below from him.

20160605-SJRBroadbandFlyer

It seems to essentially be a cable Internet service though he told me that he also provides wireless Internet services (and has some “towers” for that purpose in Puttaparthi). The owner had told me that he had laid cables in many parts of Puttaparthi town (connected to his Internet server) due to which providing new cable connections to Puttaparthi town people (at least central parts of Puttaparthi town) was quite easy. I guess it would be somewhat like how TV cable guys provide new connections.

As phone or modem is not involved the connection seems to involve less hassles. Since no mobile SIM card would come into play there would be limited or no paperwork wrt authorities, I guess. Especially for foreigners in Puttaparthi, such a quick and rather hassle free way to get broadband cable Internet connectivity may be very convenient.

My BSNL landline broadband connection costs Rs. 1,144 providing a claimed 8 Mbps speed for 25 GB data per month [6th June 2017: earlier I had wrongly written 8 GB data per month instead of 25 GB data per month; it was 25 GB limit even in June 2016]. Three relevant MONTHLY offers from this private party’s cable Internet services are:

1) Rs. 600 plan with claimed speed of 1 Mbps for 10 GB data (lower speed beyond at no extra charge)
2) Rs. 799 plan with claimed speed of 2 Mbps for 15 GB data (lower speed beyond at no extra charge)
3) Rs. 1,250 plan with claimed speed of 3 Mbps for 15 GB data (lower speed beyond at no extra charge)

PuneC responded:
I have been buying my computers and cellphones from the same place for many years. They have wifi set up through their office (two floors, about 2000 sq ft total I would guess). The man there said they use a wired Reliance link because of its capacity. They need to download about 200GB a month and the Reliance link has no limits. On the other hand, speed is limited to 1-2MB, which is fine for them as they pay only Rs.800 or thereabouts a month.

Airtel (and BSNL) have what they call a ‘fair usage policy’: that means that after you hit your download limit for the month, your speed drops to a maximum of 500kbps, effectively of course much less.

In the US, I read that a court ruled that you cannot sell a service claiming ‘unlimited’ if you have limits, even the fair usage kind of limits. ‘Unlimited’ must mean having no limits.

PuneC added:
One more input: I was having what looked to me like a proxy server problem and I asked the BSNL person where the Pune proxy server was. He said that BSNL operates with a single all-India proxy server based in Bangalore. My guess is that this is to help them to monitor traffic and block sites etc.

There were DNS problems too and I find that these do also occur occasionally with Airtel 4G.

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