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The history of the internet in India began with the launch of the Educational Research Network (ERNET) in 1986. The network was only made available to educational and research communities. ERNET was initiated by the Department of Electronics (DoE), with funding support from the Government of India and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), involving eight premier institutions as participating agencies—NCST Bombay, Indian Institute of Science, five Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Chennai, and the DoE in New Delhi. ERNET began as a multi protocol network with both the TCP/IP and the OSI-IP protocol stacks running over the leased-line portion of the backbone. Since 1995, however, almost all traffic is carried over TCP/IP. The first leased line of 9.6 kbit/s was installed in January 1991 between Delhi and Mumbai. ERNET was allotted Class B IP address 18.104.22.168 by InterNIC in 1990. Subsequently, Class C addresses were allotted to ERNET by APNIC. All IITs, IISc Bangalore, DOE Delhi and NCST Mumbai were connected by 9.6 kbit/s leased line by 1992. In the same year, 64 kbit/s Internet gateway link was commissioned from NCST Mumbai to UUNet in Virginia, United States.
The first publicly available internet service in India was launched by state-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) on 14 August 1995. At the time, VSNL had a monopoly over international communications in the country and private enterprise was not permitted in the sector. The internet service, known as the Gateway Internet Access Service (GIAS), provided a speed of 9.6 kbit/s speed and was priced at $160 for 250 hours for individuals, $500 for institutional dial-up SLIP/PPP accounts, and higher for leased line services. GIAS was available immediately from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. It was made available in Pune and Bangalore by the end of 1995, while users from other locations could connect through the Department of Telecommunications‘ I-NET, an X.25 network accessed through leased lines or at a concessional dial-up rate from almost anywhere. The connection between VSNL and MCI Inc. in the United States was made with multiple 64kbit/s links.
The service was plagued by several hardware and network issues. B.K. Syngal, then chairman and managing director of VSNL, publicly apologized and took responsibility for the issues. Syngal stated that the company had not conducted any survey of the potential demand for the service. The modems used by VSNL were of poor quality, and often would make a beeping sound every three minutes and subsequently disconnect. The connections also faced junction issues when users attempted to connect between internet exchanges. VSNL had designed each line to handle 30 customers at a time, which would quickly swell to full capacity. VSNL invested ₹2-2.5 crore on the launch. Recalling the launch in 2015, Syngal described the amount as “pathetic”.
Despite the issues, VSNL’s internet service garnered 10,000 subscribers within the first 6 months of the launch. The company invested ₹10-15 crore to re-design the service. The internet service got a boost in popularity after a successful demo at the NASSCOM meeting at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai in 1996. VSNL’s booth demonstrating the capabilities of the internet received a large number of visitors. However, for the next 10 years the Internet experience in the country remained less attractive with narrow-band connections having speeds less than 56 kbit/s (dial-up). To meet the growing demand for internet access, VSNL, in cooperation with the DoT, added new points of presence (POP) on the Internet. In 1997, new POPs opened in Kanpur, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Patna and Goa. By 1998, the network comprised around 40 POPs.
In 2004, the government formulated its broadband policy which defined broadband as “an always-on Internet connection with download speed of 256 kbit/s or above.” From 2005 onward, the growth of the broadband sector in the country accelerated, but remained below the growth estimates of the government and related agencies due to resource issues in last-mile access which were predominantly wired-line technologies. This bottleneck was removed in 2010 when the government auctioned 3G spectrum followed by an equally high-profile auction of 4G spectrum that set the scene for a competitive and invigorated wireless broadband market. Today, internet access in India is provided by both public and private companies using a variety of technologies and media including dial-up (PSTN), xDSL, coaxial cable, Ethernet, FTTH, ISDN, HSDPA (3G), WiFi, WiMAX, etc. at a wide range of speeds and costs.
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The following frequencies are used to provide wireless internet services:
- 2G : GSM 900 MHz, GSM 1800 MHz
- 3G : UMTS 2100 MHz
- 4G : TD-LTE 2300 MHz, FD-LTE 1800 MHz, FDD-LTE 850 MHz
- CDMA : 800 MHz (for 1x voice and data & EVDO Rev A, Rev B, Rev B Phase II data)
According to the November 2018 Speedtest Global Index, published by Speedtest.net, India was ranked 65th out of 126 countries by average fixed broadband speed and 111th out of 123 countries by average mobile internet speed. The average fixed broadband download speed in India is 26.46 Mbit/s and the average fixed broadband upload speed is 21.91 Mbit/s. Speedtest recorded the average download speed on mobile connections in India as 9.93 Mbit/s and average upload speed of 3.82 Mbit/s..
According to the Akamai Q1 2017 State of the Internet Report, the average internet connection speed in India is 6.5 Mbit/s and the average peak connection speed is 41.4 Mbit/s. Globally, India was ranked 89th out of 149 countries/regions by average internet connection speed and 97th by average peak connection speed. 42% of internet users in India have an average internet connection speed of above 4 Mbit/s, 19% have a speed of over 10 Mbit/s, and 10% enjoy speeds over 15 Mbit/s. The average internet connection speed on mobile networks in India was 4.9 Mbit/s.
The first commercially launched internet service in India offered dial-up speeds of up to 9.6 kbit/s in 1995. With the advent of better modems, the network speed was increased to 14.4. kbit/s, followed by 28.8 and 33.4 kbit/s accesses by 1998. Dial-up was later upgraded to provide speeds up to 56 kbit/s on analog lines. In 2004, the government formulated its broadband policy which defined broadband as “an always-on Internet connection with download speed of 256 kbit/s or above.” The definition was amended in July 2013 defining broadband as a “data connection that supports interactive services, including internet access, capable of a minimum download speed of 256 kbps to an individual subscriber.” The minimum download speed was officially raised from 256 kbit/s to 512 kbit/s in August 2014.
On 31 October 2016, TRAI issued a directive to all fixed broadband ISPs ordering them to ensure that the minimum download speed of a connection would not drop below 512 kbit/s even after a subscriber had used up their assigned data limits. TRAI also ordered all ISPs to notify their subscribers through SMS or email when the subscriber had consumed 50%, 90% and 100% of their assigned data limit. All TSPs are also required to maintain a portal or website where subscribers can view their usage pattern at any time.
In April 2018, DoT officials stated that they were in the process of raising the minimum speed of broadband to 2 Mbit/s.. Connection speeds from 40 Mbit/s to 1 Gbit/s with fiber are now common in cities of India.