Paul Whetstone, the territory manager for South West Asia, Ascend Communications, among the top few Internet equipment vendors has a pet joke about the entry of private Internet service providers (ISPs). "We have a rolling 12-day target for it. Each time I come here, which is twice a month, I am told it will start in another 12 days. This target keeps rolling," says the UK-based Whetstone. He shared with Josey Puliyenthuruthel his views on the future of ISPs in India:
On the future of private ISPs and the market for Internet services in India: The Indian market is not following (the trend) in other markets. There is certainly a large market, but we don't want any numbers yet. But, India is larger than many other markets; and, in that sense, India is a large market. Also, if one were to go by the money that different ISPs are putting into their business plans, there appears to be some potential.
On what should ISPs plan for: If one were to put that in a sentence, conservative subscriber numbers and a scaleable network would be best the route that ISPs want to take.
On the structure of the future Indian ISP market: If I go by the inputs from the market: if you are talking about a large number of ISPs in the market initially, there is bound to be some rationalisation. That's a quite natural thing to happen. A lot of people are keen to move into this business.
On the likelihood of quality of service (QOS) being used as a differentiator by private ISPs: I think, people tend to recognise, is going to be key to differentiating their service.
Think about an ATM-baed service on which you could run different kind of services. For instance, it would give top priority to a real-time application, but wouldn't do so in the case of a store-and-forward service, Now, this can be built into the business model of an ISP.
If you can offer that level of differentiation in service, you can offer that in billing. Price is an important factor in the Indian market, but QOS can be used to compete against an cut-throat operator. A chairman woudn't be expected to be billed as a home user. Some of the Indian ISPs are aware of the QOS issue, some are not. On the technologies that ISPs will use: You are going to have different niches requiring different technologies. If you are looking at a purely analog connectivity in PC segment, you are likely to be looking at frame relay technologies.
On the other hand, when you talk the cable companies, who want to use set-top (boxes) technology, they are looking straightaway at ATM (asynchronous transfer mode, a faster technology). With regard to the feeder technologies, it will be a mixture of PSTN (public switched telephone network, the normal telephone line) and ISDN (integrated services data network, which enables both voice and data transfer). Internet will drive ISDN technologies. Leased lines will probably be applicable in the corporate sector.