BSNL 3G Mobile Internet desperately attempts to compete with 4G service providers; BSNL 3G speed tests on 13th Sept. 2017 in Puttaparthi

Last updated on 21st Sept. 2017

This post is more of a record of how Jio 4G Internet pricing and delivery (of decent speed mobile broadband Internet) has forced Indian govt.’s big telecom company, BSNL, to respond. BSNL does not have a 4G offering now. So it is trying to keep its 3G customers happy by offering them plans comparable in price, data usage and validity to Jio, even though its 3G speed cannot match Jio’s 4G speed.

For users like me who need broadband Internet for desktop computer/laptop, it does not make any sense to consider BSNL 3G solutions when multiple vendors today in 2017 are offering 4G solutions (and so higher speed) at similar price in my town of Puttaparthi (in Andhra Pradesh, India). However, just a year ago, in 2016 (or for most of 2016 before Jio 4G became a reality in Puttaparthi and many other parts of India), most mobile Internet users in Puttaparthi were 3G mobile Internet users. For me, BSNL 3G mobile Internet was a workable bare-bones backup Internet connection if my regular BSNL landline broadband connection was not working, so long as I did not download hundreds of Megabytes (100s of MB) of data on it as that was expensive.

So while I think BSNL 3G mobile Internet is now something that I can ignore for current and future needs, from a history perspective, I wanted to put up this post. Readers who are not interested in such history kind-of stuff may please ignore this post.

Over the past few months, Indian govt. run BSNL has offered 3G mobile Internet plans (BSNL is not yet into 4G) which is competing price and data limit wise with Jio and other 4G Mobile Internet vendors in India. It seems that that these BSNL plans have got good response from its users. Perhaps there are many BSNL users in India on 3G phones who cannot avail of 4G Jio or other comparably priced 4G service providers in India as their phones cannot use them, and so they found these BSNL offers attractive. Jio is trying to disrupt this market segment too by accepting bookings of a near future 4G phone on deposit of Rs. 1500 and no additional charge, which seems to have got overbooked already. [https://www.jio.com/en-in/book-jio-phone claims that millions have booked the Jio phone. Here is a news item from Jio about the Jio (4G) phone: https://jioprime.org/reliance-jio-1500-phone-booking-registration/.]

This article, http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/bsnl-unveils-cheap-data-plan-offers-270gb-data-for-rs-333-2264247.html, dated 24th April 2017, mentions three BSNL plans that seem to be comparable to Jio in price and validity (but not speed as BSNL is 3G and Jio is 4G). Here are the important features of two of these plans:
1) Rs. 333 Triple Ace plan gives upto 3 GB of 3G speed data per day for 90 days, along with unlimited local area voice calls.
2) Rs. 349 Dil Khol Ke Bol gives upto 2 GB of 3G speed data per day for 90 days, along with unlimited local and STD calls.

In mid-June of 2017, BSNL launched the “Chauka” plan – see http://www.timesnownews.com/business-economy/article/bsnl-chauka-mobile-broadband-plan-444-4gb-data-90-days/63371, dated 16th June 2017. The Rs. 444 plan offers upto 4GB of 3G data per day for 90 days. Looks like voice calls may NOT be free under this plan.

Now I don’t know whether one can migrate to the above plans from one’s current plan. I have an old Nokia E-52 single SIM phone which is 3G (and HSDPA which extends and improves 3G) capable which I use mainly for my mobile voice (and sometimes SMS) needs. On this mobile phone I use BSNL 3G service provider in Puttaparthi (I use BSNL SIM), and I am currently on BSNL Nestham plan with Rs. 450+ balance.

It seems that BSNL Andhra Pradesh (the state that I live in) is giving curtailed versions of the above, and also only data features of the above (not free voice calls) which, if I had wanted to, I could have used on my BSNL Nestham plan (without migrating to another plan). Here is what seems to be its current offerings for 3G DATA, which are typically through Special Tariff Vouchers (STVs) which deduct the amount associated with the STV, from the balance of the BSNL plan one is using:
http://www.ap.bsnl.co.in/flashapnews/3g_prepaid_data_plan.html.

The interesting DATA STVs are:
1) Rs. 333 which gives upto 1 GB of 3G speed data (and 80 Kbps afterwards) per day for 56 calendar days. [I don’t understand its 3 paisa (0.03 Rupee) for 10 KB charge “after freebies”. Does it mean that above 1 GB usage limit on a particular day, one has to pay 3 paisa for 10 KB (around 3 Rs for 1 MB)? I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it means which is a dangerous money-balance eating trap that users who cross the 1GB limit but are not aware of it, may fall into.]

2) Rs. 444 which gives upto 2 GB of 3G speed data (and 80 Kbps afterwards) per day for 90 calendar days. For this plan, the data charges after freebies is listed as NIL. So I think on this plan, the users don’t have to fear the money-balance eating trap when they cross the per day data limit (2 GB) on any days.

These plans drop the effective rates for BSNL 3G data usage DRASTICALLY from what it was in 2016 (before Jio disrupted the market). The same link above provides the 2016 DATA STVs too, which are current now in 2017. I have listed some of them below to show how expensive they are in today’s Jio 4G disrupted mobile Internet market.

3) Rs. 17 – 110 MB, 1 day validity
Rs. 39 – 200 MB, 5 day validity
Rs. 78 – 2 GB, 5 day validity
Rs. 549 – 10 GB, 30 day validity
Rs. 821 – 12 GB, 60 day validity

Note that without these STVs (or after crossing the data amount of these STVs), the regular charge of Rs. 0.03 for 10 KB of data will apply. If I understood it correctly, that comes to around Rs. 3 for 1 MB, around Rs. 300 for 100 MB, and around Rs. 3000 for 1 GB!!! So without using an STV, BSNL 3G data was prohibitively expensive in 2016 and continues to be prohibitively expensive today for standard/popular plans like BSNL Nestham which is what I am on.

But even with the above STVs, listed under point 3 above, we are seeing rates of around Rs. 50 per GB (or higher for the smaller data amount STVs). That is what made the 2016 BSNL 3G data offerings even when used with STV, very expensive as a regular Internet facility for computer users like me.

The new offerings mentioned above of Rs. 333, Rs. 349 and Rs. 444 plans, as well as comparatively less attractive STVs of Rs. 333 and Rs. 444, giving 1 or 2 or 4 GB data/per day at 3G speeds for 56 to 90 days, makes BSNL 3G far more attractive cost wise as a mobile Internet service for regular computer usage (as against limited smartphone usage).

But what about the speed of BSNL 3G TODAY in Puttaparthi? Is it in the range of 0.4 or 0.5 Mbps (around 400 to 500 Kbps), in which case the speed may be too poor for activities like Facebook scrolling (lots of images are loaded) and youtube video watching on laptop/desktop computer or Windows Update downloads.

My initial tests today afternoon surprised me with fast.com and beta.speedtest.net initially reporting poor speed (less than 500 Kbps) but repeat tests taking the speed in the range of 1.5 to 2 Mbps!!! At that speed, Facebook wall scrolling showed the images quickly, youtube videos played without much pausing … It was a pretty OK Internet usage on laptop experience.

But tests in the late evening and night gave very disappointing speeds of 100 Kbps, 140 Kbps etc. by fast.com. Beta.speedtest.net speed tests did not even work! No single fast.com test during this period gave 1 Mbps speed or above. In fact I think it never crossed 500 Kbps. Perhaps the BSNL network gets heavily loaded during late evening and night time (I think there are voice call freebies that come into play after 9 PM every day which may be impacting 3G data throughput as well) resulting in the Internet speed dropping to very poor levels.

Given below is a detailed log of my tests. Readers who are not interested in such details may please skip reading the rest of this post.

Detailed Log

Dell Mini-Laptop on my computer table in bedroom. Nokia E-52 connected to it via USB cable (micro-USB connector on Nokia phone side). Service provider is BSNL 3G (one exception is clearly indicated). Date of tests: 13th Sept. 2017

On connecting to Internet via Nokia Suite I get a message that the speed is 460.8 Kbps or something like that. Now this message from Nokia Suite is MISLEADING. As the data below shows, some of the speed tests report significantly higher speeds. http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1860028 has a forum user stating, “Nokia Suite reports 460.8 because that has something to do with USB 2.0. If you run a speedtest on speedtest.net you will see that this 460.8 limit is irrelevant – I got a download speed of 7.38mbps to Telstra Melb!” From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB#USB_2.0, “USB 2.0 was released in April 2000, adding a higher maximum signaling rate of 480 Mbit/s (High Speed or High Bandwidth), in addition to the USB 1.x Full Speed signaling rate of 12 Mbit/s. Due to bus access constraints, the effective throughput of the High Speed signaling rate is limited to 280 Mbit/s or 35 MB/s.”

[Update on 21st Sept. 2017: Note that the Nokia Suite WRONGLY reported speed of 460.8 is  Kbps (Kilo bits per second) speed. Whereas even with USB 2.0 the above effective speed is 280 Mbps (Mega bits per second)!!! 460.8 Kbps is less than half of even 1 Mbps. So the USB 2.0 limit message above for WRONGLY reported 460.8 Kbps speed in Nokia Suite application is MISLEADING!! end-Update]

Note that my Dell mini-Laptop has USB 3.0 ports which is what I connected the Nokia phone to. However, my desktop computer has USB 2.0 ports and no USB 3.0 ports (an upgrade to new motherboard with USB 3.0 ports has been ordered as the old motherboard seems to have developed some problems). From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB#USB_3.0, “The USB 3.0 specification was released on 12 November 2008, .. ” .. “The new SuperSpeed mode provides a data signaling rate of 5.0 Gbit/s. However, due to the overhead incurred by 8b/10b encoding, the payload throughput is actually 4 Gbit/s, and the specification considers it reasonable to achieve only around 3.2 Gbit/s (0.4 GB/s or 400 MB/s). However, this should increase with future hardware advances.” So USB 3.0 max achievable speed as per above statements (which could have been made obsolete by ‘hardware advances’) is 3.2 Gbps which is around 3200 Mbps, well above what BSNL 3G speed in Puttaparthi can deliver!

[Update on 21st Sept. 2017. I got confused between 480 Mbps USB 2.0 limit and 460.8 Kbps WRONGLY REPORTED Nokia Suite speed. The first sentence below was made in that context. end-Update]

I must say here that I did not realize that even in 2016 when, on very few occasions, I had used my Nokia phone’s 3G BSNL service connected to my desktop computer’s USB 2.0 ports, that the USB 2.0 port may have been limiting (to 460.8 Mbps) any higher than 460.8 Mbps speed that BSNL 3G may have delivered to my Nokia phone! [21st Sept 2017 Update: How can BSNL 3G in Puttaparthi ever even dream to deliver 460.8 Mbps speed! I tripped up as explained earlier. I am retaining this trip-up after flagging it as an error as a record of such trip-ups. Hopefully I will not make such egregious mistakes in future. end-Update] But then I was using that arrangement as a bare-bones backup Internet service with limited data consumption (due to high cost of data per 100 MB) when my BSNL landline broadband failed (which was NOT often). Due to its high cost per 100 MB, I was not really interested in using BSNL 3G Internet service as a broadband kind of service even if it was offering speed of say 2 Mbps or more.

Today, when I tested with fast.com, initially the speeds were shown as around 500 Kbps but repeat tests took it higher! Later I tried with Ookla Beta – initial tests did not even run. First Ookla Beta test that ran gave 600 Kbps or so DL speed but over 1 Mbps upload speed.

These results surprised me (pleasantly). So I ran two proper tests whose results are given below.

I am using STV DATA17 (110 MB costing Rs. 17 which gets deducted from balance available on BSNL plan).

*) 1.95 Mbps, around 3.24 PM http://beta.speedtest.net/result/6620040187
*) 1.1 Mbps, 3.29 PM, fast.com

Hmm. So I can get over 1 Mbps on my BSNL 3G connection via Nokia phone placed on computer table in my bedroom! That’s very interesting!

On disconnect, got a message on Nokia phone that last data usage was around 34.5 MB and that 75.5 MB balance is available in APSTV17.

Seated in balcony with Mini-Laptop and phone connected to it via USB
*) 1.9 Mbps, 3.46 PM, fast.com
*) 1.72 Mbps, 3.50 PM, http://beta.speedtest.net/result/6620095545

Checked out Facebook (including scrolling through Facebook wall), gmail, Google News, and few seconds playback of youtube video. It was not bad in terms of response speed. While it did seem to take some time especially for initial load (some seconds), it did not show image placeholders including when I was doing scrolling on Facebook wall. I mean, this was not 460 Kbps speed; it was 1 Mbps+ speed and more like 1.5 Mbps+ speed (though it seemed to me that the response time was not as good as with BSNL landline 2 Mbps plan speed).

I need to test more with youtube video before I can be sure. Meanwhile I am concerned about exhausting the 75 MB data left when I started this round of tests.

*) 2.2 Mbps, 4.02 PM, fast.com
———-

On disconnect I get the message saying, 49.8 MB of last data (session) usage. Remaining data 25.6 MB from APSTV17.

===============
Just for comparison I did a couple of speed tests with Dell mini-Laptop back on computer table in bedroom and Huawei 4G USB dongle with JIO SIM directly connected to it. Bedroom-balcony door is open and the glass window pane is closed, with 4G dongle having direct line of access to outside (glass window covered) window area.

*) 4.8 Mbps, 4.33 PM, fast.com
*) 2.69 Mbps, 4.36 PM, http://beta.speedtest.net/result/6620198601
*) 3.54 Mbps, 4.38 PM, http://beta.speedtest.net/result/6620201233
*) 3.3 Mbps, 4.39 PM, fast.com
====================

11:05 PM: Around maybe 10.15 PM or so I was trying to check speed using fast.com on Nokia phone itself. It was showing numbers like 120 and 200 odd  without specifying Kbps (instead it showed Mbps as I scrolled down on my tiny around 2.5 inch diagonal (non-touch) screen). I also tried some other sites. Text sites came up well. Youtube video listed videos but Real Player playback failed (I think that has to do with some settings perhaps on the phone).

Around 10.50 PM or so I connected my Nokia E-52 phone via micro-USB to USB cable to my Dell Mini Laptop and connected to 3G BSNL network. This time around the speeds were abysmally poor. Laptop is on computer table in bedroom. Phone was on computer table or on smaller plastic table next to it. The bedroom-balcony door was closed.

Fast.com repeatedly gave speeds way below 1 Mbps (100 Kbps, 140 Kbps etc.). Facebook wall scrolling showed placeholders instead of images.

Did some tests and browsing to exhaust remaining 24 or so MB of STV data. I wanted to see whether it rolls over to non-STV regular Nestham charge of 0.03 Rs per 10 KB of data without asking me about it. I think that’s what happens. It just rolls over to non-STV very high data charge WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!

I was checking the data usage on the Nokia Suite application on Mini-Laptop. As it touched 24 MB I decided to disconnect. On disconnect, the message that came up on my Nokia E-52 phone was, “Your last Data usage 24Mb 640 Kb 545bytes. Remaining balance 0bytes in APSTV17. Call Cost 0.570. Main Bal Rs. 466.861”.

I also (after disconnect) saw that an SMS had been sent from BSNL, “Reminder 2: Your remaining data volume is 9 Mb 636 Kb 648bytes.”

Using *124# on mobile phone I got the last 5 call details. Only last call had GPRS call cost of 0.57 INR (Indian Rupees). The four calls previous to that had 0 INR cost (as it was getting adjusted with the STV).

So clearly there is a big danger while using BSNL 3G browsing with STVs, of exhausting the STV data (like I exhausted the 110 MB Rs. 17 STV) and getting onto non-STV very exorbitant rate of around Rs. 300 for 100 MB!!! Rs 0.03 for 10 KB makes it around Rs. 3 for 1 MB and so around Rs. 300 for 100 MB. And Rs. 3000 for 1 GB!!! Scary that inadvertently one can rapidly empty one’s balance with download of 100’s of MB data after the STV data has got exhausted. But that’s the reality with BSNL Mobile Internet model of charging users.

[Today evening I was discussing this very high non-STV data usage charge in BSNL regular plans (like Nestham) with a Puttaparthi shopkeeper who provides mobile related products & services among other things. He told me of a case some time back (perhaps a year or two ago) where a customer (serving in Puttaparthi ashram system, I guess) asked him to recharge her BSNL 3G plan on her phone by over Rs. 3000 using some recharge option that gave large amount of talk time. Her phone was a smartphone. Shockingly, most (or was it all?) of this recharged amount (over Rs. 3000) had got deducted from her balance over the course of the next two days or so! On checking, the BSNL customer support staff informed her that large amount of data had been downloaded. And she was not on any DATA STV! Perhaps she downloaded, say 1 GB of data either consciously or unconsciously (automatic downloads). As she was not on any DATA STV, that, say 1 GB of data would have cost her around Rs. 3000 (at Rs. 0.03 per 10 KB of data) all of which got deducted from her balance! What a money-eating trap these complicated BSNL charging schemes are for mobile Internet data usage!]
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Readers who are interested in detailed log info. about a related post of mine done last year, may want to read this post of mine, June 2016: PC Net browsing via BSNL Mobile – Charges & Setup, https://ravisiyer.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/june-2016-pc-net-browsing-via-bsnl-mobile-charges-setup/.

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Terry Reis Kennedy is a USA citizen who lives significant amount of time in Puttaparthi. She is a writer and is active on social media (Facebook), and mainly uses a Windows OS computer to do her Internet work (as against smartphone).

Terry responded over email (edited) and was OK with sharing it publicly (in edited way):
Wow! Good work, Ravi. You have written so clearly that even I am able to understand everything. This is proof to me that when a person writes clearly I can understand the subject…whatever it is.

[About some computer service person(s):] They are knowledgeable and are able to fix computer problems but not able to TEACH. Their communication skills to the user of the computer are not clear. If they were, I would understand what they are saying. They take the attitude that there is no need for me to understand…… just use the device and when it is not responding call them………….

I can see now that I will have to switch to the Jio plan later. …

Thank you for your wonderful article. It [Ravi: I think she is referring to Jio 4G Mobile Internet disrupting Internet service provider business due to its cheap price and reasonable broadband speed] really is historic. BSNL has to do SOMETHING….and also get more than two people in our local office [Ravi: I think she is referring to BSNL local office] who can communicate not only in English….but in a language, computer user language, that people can understand.

Swami bless you for this seva,
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I (Ravi) responded as follows (edited):

Thanks Terry. Such responses give vital feedback to me that my time spent in composing the public post DID help at least one person!

[Note that Terry is not computer hardware/ Windows OS software tech savvy. But she is a regular computer user and is experienced/savvy in using Internet applications like Gmail and Facebook. About her kind words about my writing which enabled her to understand everything in the post: ]

Thanks. Well, I was a teacher or mentor for significant part of my nearly two decades in the software industry. And then I was a (free service) teacher of software lab. courses in Sathya Sai university for 9 years. So there is a lot of teaching/mentoring experience that I have. And in most of my free service social media work over the past 6 years I have consciously retained a teacher style of communication/writing using simple language, repetition [repetition helps to drive home a point to a student/reader who may not have properly understood or even heard/read it the first time] and a conversational style as against an expert writing to other experts in succinct and tech-jargon-heavy language style that would be hard to understand for most, if not all, non-experts.

At times though, it was necessary for me to use software expert-to-expert style of written communication even in some of my public social media posts. But I think such posts are quite limited and I usually put out a warning note to readers about the post/part of the post being technically detailed/involved.

[About some computer service person(s) attitude towards their computer user customers:]
That is the attitude a businessman who earns his living through such services, typically has. He is not a teacher and is not a free service man. To be frank, it is to his advantage commercially to not educate his customers and have some sort of customer dependency on him. When I was an international software consultant charging hourly rates, in the second half of the 90s and early 2000s, I would have had a similar approach, I guess, except for situations where I was being paid for teaching staff of a company. Time while providing my software expertise as a consultant to commercial orgns, was literally money for me then! Of course, during this period, I also provided some free services to my Sathya Sai samithi (local centre) with some computer work (and other non-computer work) – that was spiritual work and not commercial livelihood-earning work.

[About BSNL having to do SOMETHING and the suggestion of BSNL having more than two people in the local office who can communicate in computer user language that people can understand:] I think BSNL not only in Puttaparthi, but throughout Andhra Pradesh and throughout India, would be in a desperate mode now fighting to retain as many of its customers as possible (and so keep its loss of revenue to as low as possible), as so many of its customers (including me) seem to be migrating to 4G mobile Internet service providers like Jio. In such business wise grim situations, employing new staff for better customer interactions may not be so easy for a public sector (government owned) company like BSNL.

[About her Swami blessings to me:] Thank you very much, Terry. I do view such social media work of mine as Seva [service as a spiritual offering to society] and am happy that it has benefited you.
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Terry responded (part of her response; slightly edited):
Personally, I think your post will help so many, many others. Here in rural India, we buy the equipment and then no one wants to show us how to use it. We have so many computer persons who will come and do the needful that if you knew how to do it, you’d not need to call them.

They will even agree to work for you. Where is the person who can teach?
—-

I (Ravi) added the following links to previous blog posts of mine as they might help readers who want to know more about using Reliance Jio 4G Mobile Internet as a (primary) Internet service provider for their computer/laptop (as against smartphone).

1) Planning to have Jio 4G mobile Internet 399 pkg + Lower cost BSNL 470ULD Landline broadband, https://goo.gl/icuH1G, dated 30th July 2017

2) Changed BSNL BB plan to 470ULD; using Jio 4G mobile Internet as primary and BSNL BB as secondary, https://goo.gl/CJHMsX, dated 6th Aug. 2017

3) Q&A about how I bought & set up my Reliance Jio 4G mobile Internet connection in Puttaparthi for use with my desktop PC, https://goo.gl/ypMGG8, dated 9th Aug. 2017

4) Pune based correspondent tries out Jio 4G Mobile Internet; gets 25 Mbps speed, and is happy with it so far, https://goo.gl/d2U3vK, dated 1st Sept. 2017

5) Windows Update using Mobile Internet plan with 1GB/day 4G speed data limit in Puttaparthi, https://goo.gl/xJRDQR, 12th Sept. 2017

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