January 01, 1999

Fiction: Third ISP from the left

The grass is always greener on the other side, or so the saying goes. To most of the 550 odd prospective ISP's who bought application forms few months back and hundreds of others who have started queuing up outside the DOT office everyday, money would certainly be the most important driving force.

The invention of WWW, which gave birth to commercial Internet, is no less than a second Industrial revolution. Internet not only brings people closer together but also changes the way people, companies, and government across the world operate today. Only the dumbest of dumb would walk away from such an interesting business proposition without thinking twice. In early 1993 when hundreds of companies sprung up across America, they had a dream, which was not very different to that of what we have today. Their expectation of growth of business was expected to be almost the same as that of the growth of Internet itself. And looking at this rather impressive growth of 100% every year, this business proposition was certainly not one, which could be lost. However, a year or two later when America had about 5000 ISP's around the country, none were running in profits.

An ISP business unlike what people would tell you is not about Money, and unlike other industries it would never be about money. From the time of its inception, from the days of ARPANET, Internet was a means of getting things done, and the universities which provided this important service, were proud of the service they offered. They never made money on it, but they never invested in it themselves either. The point I am getting to is a simple fact that looking at Internet Service Provider as a Internet Money Provider would be one of the biggest mistakes a person could ever make, and that though you can make money indirectly, it has to be well planned.

Five years after Internet went commercial in a big way in America, only a tenth of the total ISP's are making profit today. Most of the rest have either closed their shops or have been bought over by bigger competitors. And the ones, which still exist, are the ones who avoided making mistakes, which the rest of the 90% made in the beginning.

Rules of the game.

1. ISP is not a golden goose. Even if you think it is, don't go for the early kill. Be patient.
2. Investing small need not translate to big earnings.
3. Neither does investing big.
4. Quality should be given preference. Value addition is the only component of service, which you can charge on.
5. Don't sell unless you can support your customer
6. Investment never stops
7. Operational expenditure could be very high. But avoiding them is not the answer to success instead count for it in Business plan. Technical support is the most crucial, but others are also as important.

Like all industries, people investing money expect early returns on investments. Looking at the history of ISP's in America, one should not expect anything before three or four years. Recovering total investment may even take more time. However the key info to note here is the fact that Investment is an ongoing process which is essential for the basic survival of ISPs.

Access to Internet is a service, which is considered to be the basic minimum an ISP can offer. This is so true that a basic TCP/IP login is now provided as a free service by many of the ISPs. What one should look at making money from is the extra value added services one can offer. Surprisingly many of the mom-and-pop corner shops have continually survived the assault of the big ISPs over the years because of a simple reason of being closer to the customer. Its these small ISPs who know the best what customer needs as value added services. Giants like AOL and VSNL are more like dinosaurs that are strong but slow to react to local requirements.

Both VSNL in India and AOL in America connect lots of people to the Internet. But when it came to user projections none could anticipate the exponential growth in demand, which hit them suddenly. VSNL as of today is trying hard to not become over subscribed. They have a month long waiting periods just to get a simple login account. And once you get it you are expected to wait for connections, which can be as bad at 10 retries before a successful hit. Well planned ISPs today, usually, keep buffers ready to service these unexpected customers at any time of year. As they say, ``its more difficult to retain a customer than acquiring one.''

India has been gifted by a very large English speaking population and a highly democratic government to support it. Internet in India could never be more open than as it is today and hopefully other related infrastructure would continue opening up. No matter what I say ISPs are not going to wait to jump in and by the end of next year, like in cable industry, I hope to see a couple of ISPs at my local marketplace.

While we wait for ISPs to get ready, I can only imagine of ISPs setting up shops at my local marketplace. ``...I'll choose the third shop from the left''.

Sprint RPG's new venture

Three years ago while the critics speculated economic viability of setting up an electronic network in India, Sprint RPG was among the first few who took the bold step of setting and started building a countrywide X.25 Electronic network. Today after more than three years of hard work and perseverance, Sprint RPG is not only the market leader in the corporate segment but also showed that such a business is economically viable for Sprint RPG India Ltd. As 80% of the ISPs around the world are loosing money across the world, there are only a few who really believe that being a Internet Service Provider is a viable business. Sprint RPG’s experience in setting up a successful electronic network in India is one of the key reasons why we believe we can do big business out of being an ISP in India. VSNL currently is the only ISP in the Indian segment catering to the common public and corporate market. ERNET and NIC are among the others who also have a good but focused user base. ERNET or Educational and Research network is a segment of DOE (Department of Electronics) which has been operating since a long time before VSNL came into the picture. It provides Internet access to Educational and Research institutions like the IITs, Universities, BARC (Baba Atomic Research Center) and NCMRWF (National Center for medium range whether forecasting). Before the advent of VSNL into the country ERNET was running its entire India operations with bandwidths as small as 128 to 256Kbps. Though this an highly over utilized network, it did a lot to help students all over the country to know more about the Internet. Organizations like the one I worked with in 1994 at that time had dialup connectivity for 9.6 KBPS to ERNET, which was, much more than most BBS services in Delhi and proved sufficient for the non-graphics browsing and communication using UUCP and SMTP. However, NIC (National Information Center) seems to be the first one who setup a countrywide network across India. Unlike ERNET, when NIC setup its first network stations across India around 1988, it was not connected to Internet (or ARPANET as it was known at that time). The network across India was mostly to connect remote district offices for Information Exchange. It today boasts of one computer node in almost all of the districts across India. The network largely based on VSAT was put on repeated public display when it was used to collect Election results from counting stations across India during elections in the past decade. Eventually NIC did get connect itself to the Internet and today offers email access to many of its district nodes and organizations its connected to. However it was not until 1995 August that the common men knew about Internet. VSNL launched its Internet services on 15th August 1995 with many fanfare and was a day, which was awaited by many like me across the country. For the first time, the people boasted of speeds of 19.6 KBPS with graphical Interface to Internet. Though many were disappointed with the high tariff rates of the service, a few like me sighed a sigh of relief when we switched from ERNET to VSNL for our email. With the help of DOT, today people can reach Internet from more than 40 cities across India with today back end bandwidth of more than 70 MBPS. However the public reaction to the VSNL’s quality of service was not something which could be talked about. VSNL was not geared itself to support the huge Internet requirement generated as the news of Internet’s success spread across India. Today with more than 1.5 lacks VSNL accounts sold out and with more than 30 to 40 lack active Internet users around the country, the demand has far outstripped the supply. The government soon realized that it was for its own good to open up this sector to public sector. A firm decision to this effect was taken on the 6th of November 1996 when the then government formally announced that Internet would soon be open up for public Investment. After months of speculations, court room battles between TRAI and DOT, and eagerly waiting to-be service providers, it seems that DOT is finally coming out with the final draft of the Policies which will formally put Sprint RPG on the track of becoming an ISP in the coming few months. Today as we continue speculating when DOT would publish its long awaited license policies, Sprint RPG has been quietly gearing up to start its services in India.

Fiction: Passengers on routers

Date 30 November 2046

Last year when the INS installed the five new terabit firewall they thought it would have been sufficient to filter all the inbound passengers, but it seems that their decision to order another set of hundred terabit routers last week speaks of their inability to predict inbound traffic.

Forty-five years ago when people first started teleporting objects many couldn't have guessed it would make the INS recruit hackers to do their work one-day. Till then, sneaking into US meant buying tickets and getting a visa stamp on paper passport, not to speak of the 22 hours sleepless horrible journey around the world. Today, the wire makes it look so stupid.

With everything shifting onto IP, it didn't take much time for the hackers to build a transport mechanism using native IP protocol. And within a few months there were a whole lot of real objects being teleported to people all over the world. The reason I call them objects is that the receiver was never sure of what was actually sent to him. The probability of objects making through in perfect condition was as small as 0.001 percent. And while the scientist were working on the causes of errors creeping in the encoding the decoding process of teleporting, people found pleasure in sending fruits which came out as juice on the other end. To some hackers it was just a way of saving money from buying a juicer, but to some like Tom, it was frustrating to not be able to send the Gold plated watch to his friend in one piece. Personally I never liked the idea of seeing a watch needle outside the watch anyway, just like I never like witnessing burnt rubber arriving instead of the new pair of Nike shoes for which I'd paid from my own digi cash account.

However the wait for the `better technology' was soon over, when Mr.Charles Carlton discovered the unexpected bug in a small chip called the XF98DL430 which was used in all decoding boxes around the world. With small software upgrade people were able to send cards and gifts at 50% probability. I myself received my first complete set of hackers tools from the US in one piece. Governments certainly had a tough time dealing with their in ability of charging a duty on goods arriving. When they found there wasn't much they could do about objects being sent, the started allowing free Internet trade of anything lesser than 5 tons. Five tons by the way was way too huge for the networks to handle so the limit was kind of necessary. In spite of all the jubilation and excitement over the various political and technical changes happening, it was still common still to find melted floppies and roasted ducks coming in through the decoders. And as if that was not enough there were times when I received tomato sauce spilled over my weekly Linux magazine.

Who could have thought that there would be a time like today when people would be able to travel around the world in a matter of minutes in one of the safest means of transport ever devised. IPv8 is still the language spoken, though the data-layer2 (l2) protocols have been changing over the decades to adapt to this new high speed era. I being a techno freak have a 10GB vlan at my home connected onto our city backbone of 10TB which is just about sufficient for a few thousands of people to travel around the city in a noiseless pollution free manner.

But as I said the beginning, immigration and terrorism are a growing menace around the world and immigration agencies like the INS in US, have started recruited hackers to make the Firewalls hacker proof. Since the time certificate authorities joined hands with governments around the world, the Personal ID is the one and only unique identification process a person has to prove his identity. Today almost all border routers around the world incorporate these ID filters to prevent unauthorized entry into the country. INS itself has been doubling its firewall strength almost 3 times a year to.

There was a time when people thought 128 bit signatures on the ID would be sufficient for the entire century. The illusion soon left them when the quantum computers were invented which could factorize thousands of bits in a few seconds. And though it might have amazed a few back then, it is a fact that my watch here on my wrist is itself capable of factorizing 64kbit numbers.

However that's not the reason I am writing this article anyway. I just wanted to inform you that I got a confirmation from the US consulate today that my entry to US through router 11-us- has been confirmed and I have to make an entry through their decoders within 48 hours. And in-case you cant get hold of my decoder address I'll still be available at my older email address rkt(at)poboxes.com

28th August 1998