Rumours on BSNL’s DSL rate plan changes

December 26, 2006

It is rumored that BSNL is going to upgrade/update their DSL offerings in new year, it is going to be a great news for Indian consumers. At the lowest level it is going to be Rs250 per month, that gives 2 mbps speed and 2 GB of upload/download. It is pretty good for a casual user.

Om malik of GigaOM feels that the restriction on data transfer is not very good for spread of internet, but I feel that at that price point it is really enticing for the consumers to get on to the bandwagon. For close relatives of Indians living abroad (NRIs), it will be a good idea to get the internet and use VOIP phone to get unlimited calls with their friends/family living abroad. Even though the long distance providers from US are becoming competitive, VOIP option gives a different dimension into the price wars. Also, you can use the link for other purposes like exchanging photo etc. Voice quality on VOIP is pretty good these days.

Today biggest problem for aged parents of NRIs is the technology fear-factor (handling computer/laptops). if there is some kind of a video phone type of equipment that can be used for uploading/downloading photos without use of computer, it may find great market. I know there are some services available that can upload/download photos from the internet into a digital photo frame, but it has recurring monthly service charges.

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Cingular/T-mobile Prepaid: Misinformed or illtrained sales associates?

December 26, 2006

I wanted to get a prepaid plan for a guest who was here in US for a short duration, I had my own phone (GSM, new one from cingular and other Sony erricson that was unlocked) i visited T-mobile and the sales associate (in San mateo) said that minimum was $50, since I did not need it for that much I declined and went to cingular in fremont, ca. There sales associate said that the minimum is $25 if you are getting a new SIM card and since I was in a hurry i just signed up.

After a month, I am realizing that I may have been misinformed by these sales guys 😦 , I can see starter kits available for as small as $10 from walmart, ebay and other outlets.

Well, knowing is key to these things, idea of using prepaid itself was so new to me, I just got too excited that I could get a SIM card for $25, jumped into it πŸ˜‰ Sometimes even time is a factor, you dont want to research too much when you need something right then.

Reliance India call reacts to Airtel Call Home, lowers the price in par with Airtel

December 21, 2006

Good news, Reliance lowered their price (at least till 31st Jan 07).

Now, that is pretty hard for reliance india call loyalists to switch. Even though I want to thank airtel for bringing in the price war, I am still mad at the way they have launched their service without proper testing.

Rip-off called caller ID

December 20, 2006

Most of you have caller id feature enabled, because you could not stand those marketing calls. But have you noticed how much your telco charges for this seemingly inexpensive feature? it costs $6+ per month. Yes, these baby bells that kept merging to become behemoths think that they should rip their customers on this feature royally (all other features cost $3+).

Isn’t it funny that this feature is mostly free in most of the cell phones, voip phones etc. No wonder people started going wireless completely bypassing these regional bells. (Oops, I forgot cellular providers are also merged with baby bells 😦 )

I am seriously thinking of getting off the DSL bandwagon. Free up my primary phone number from the “lock” and allow itself to be ported to VOIP phone. Currently, I pay 50+ to regional bell, $5-15 for long distance provider, $25 for international call provider. By switching to cable modem + voip, I think my cost will remain the same, but I will get additional calling features (yes, I have not enabled caller ID so far πŸ˜‰ ) , faster internet, I dont know about the service, only way to find out by trying it out and incurring some pain of transition.

At the end, we are still dependent on the regional bells, for one, they own the “last mile“, so any content that wants to use the pipe into our homes has to go through them. I hope that Muncipal WiFis provide some alternatives to last mile problem, but I guess there is some limitation with the “wireless” technology.

Pat Buchanan is right

December 14, 2006

Yes, I can’t believe that I would’ve agreed with a conservative politician like him, but his op-ed really nails the point the Iraq situation and on the Iraq study group. In his first piece he says:

Yet the brutal honesty of the Baker-Hamilton commission about the situation in Iraq is accompanied by recommendations that are almost utopian in their unreality.

Isn’t it really true, report is really honest in admitting the situation (which apparently even incoming sec. of defense agreed). However, solution is not really something easy to come by and Iraq study group made recommendations which dont really solve problems for Iraq but probably for US internal politics. Now, no one knows how to handle the mess, staying with additional resources will be politically challenging, at the same time withdrawl may worsen the situation for Iraq.

He goes on to say:

The Baker-Hamilton commission has told us in brutal frankness that the patient is dying, for which we are grateful. But the commission is, in its own way, as much in denial as George W. Bush. For the surgery it recommends for Iraq looks more like a mercy killing than a miracle cure.

Guess we need a miracle now.

In his second piece, he speculates how blame game will shape up in coming days:

The neocons are also preparing their defense before the bar of history. Realizing the Baker Commission recommendations point to slow-motion defeat, they are savaging Baker and calling for tens of thousands more U.S. troops to be sent to Baghdad and a new strategy of victory, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes.

If Bush fails to follow their counsel, they will then say: “It was not our fault. It was Bush’s rejection of our advice that lost the war.”

Democrats aren’t off the hook either, he says:

The Democratic establishment, which gave Bush a blank check to take us to war, “to get the issue out of the way” before the midterms in 2002, is also preparing its defense of the role it played in plunging us into Mesopotamia, the “if-only-we-had-known” defense.

….

The Democrats’ defense begs these questions: Why didn’t you know? Why didn’t you find out? Why didn’t you do your constitutional duty and refuse the president the power to go to war until he had convinced you that only war could spare the republic worse horrors?

….

The people who were right about Iraq were those who rejected bipartisanship to warn that invading Iraq was an unnecessary, unwise and, yes, even an unjust war that would inflame the Arab and Islamic world against us. Unsurprisingly, this group had no representative on the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

It is hard to see what is a good solution for the Iraq mess, but sad part is it has also depleted the invincibility of US. Iranian Prime minster and other jokers like him are making all sort of noises and they know that US cannot threaten him with a war. War is an important tool in the quest for world peace, it has to be used aptly, only then it’s value will be retained. One bad move has emboldened leaders like North Korean leader and Iranian leaders, which is sad!!

Airtel Call Home sucks

December 12, 2006

Airtel (unit of Bharati Telecom, big reputed mobile company in India) introduced this service to call internationally from US (mainly to India). This is probably in competition against Reliance india call.

Stupidly, I signed up to their service, thinking that it is a big company hence their service would be OK. I signed into Reliance also at it’s early days and it was never dysfunctional like Airtel. All said and done, reliance web site may look little primitive, but their service was excellent, customer service was reachable all the time (there was no need to call them in last two years). I guess you get what you pay for.

Here, it allowed me to register, took my CC number, but does not allow me to register my phone numbers. That being the most important thing, I tried to call up their customer service number, which is busy all the time. I sent an email, for which I got an automated reply saying someone will contact me, nothing has happened so far (it is second day today)

If Airtel wants to be a serious player in this field, they should clean up their act. They cannot go live without making sure things are in place. (like the 800 number for customer service).

Update: When I sent a mail to customer support, here is the bounced back message, isn’t it hilarious:

Subject: Re: PIN Reminder

was not delivered to:

Customersupport@airtel.in

because:

Error delivering to Customersupport/ES-Carrier/Airtel/BTVL; Router: Database disk quota exceeded

Update 2: Finally, I thought let me try it out directly and take the pain of entering the account number and pin. Surprise!! All it asked me was for PIN, so it did register my number, but I dont know why the hell it needs the PIN. Once I could get in call quality was good, but lot of irritants all the way

  • Lot of instructions, repated greetings (Welcome to Airtel, Welcome to Airtel)
  • It asks you to dial your home number in the same way you dial in India (like STD code + number), hello!! what is the need to make it look like that?
  • After the number is pressed you need to press the # sign.

    I guess I just need to finish what ever I have filled and then revert back to using Reliance India call, even in their early days, their system was robust. (Remember, they provided free calls etc)

    Update [21-Dec-06]: Reliance has matched their price with Airtel. Thanks and no thanks to Airtel.

    Also, checkout my musings on voip service, using bsnl broadband and getting ripped off by regional bells (no longer baby bell).

    Goodbye Bangalore, Economist says “A city of beans by any other name will smell as sweet, or beany.”

    December 12, 2006

    Nice article by Ecnomist on Bangalore’s new name ‘Bengaluru’

    First, the changes, which are nearly always politically inspired, often seem to annoy the locals as much as anyone else. Many Indians, surprised to be told their place names were inappropriate, still talk about Bombay and Calcutta as though nothing had changed. The people of St Petersburg have had to endure first Petrograd and then Leningrad before reclaiming their city’s pre-1914 name. The Congolese were startled one day to be told that their country, its main river and the currency would all be called Zaire. After 26 years they got their old name back. Something similar happened in Cambodia, when the ghastly Khmers Rouges imposed Kampuchea.

    Yes, stalwarts from Bangalore like NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys and lot of nobodies in the blogland have spewed their anger against this name change. But, I dont agree with all their reasonings on it’s effects on Bangalore’s brand. Bengaluru by any name will have the same advantage and disadvantage that it has today. It is silly and downright non sense to think that some business will be lost with new name. (if that is the case you have no confidence in yourself). BTW, name did not change to completely different thing.

    Personally, to me, it is not the anger towards the British that resulted in this name change, it is because of the neglect of local language and culture by IT people (affluent kannadigas themselves). Prominent author UR Anananthamurthy initiated this thing, even though I dont agree with lot his political views, I can see this as a way of asserting the existence of local language and culture, it probably looks irrational, but sometimes these stupid things is all you can think of when it comes to issues like cultural hegemony. (It works too, otherwise no one even bothers to acknowledge the existence of local culture!)

    I really like the article by Economist, there is no other way to put it. Shame on all those who are spewing anger without really thinking through the issue and showing empathy to local issues. You cannot just keep pressing your thinking in the name of development. Educated people like NRN or bloggers should be little more lenient in their thinking towards other’s view point. (In this case, locals, who appear to be too chauvinistic with their stubborn attitude)

    Real issue with Bangalore.. oops Bengaluru πŸ˜‰ is it’s own problems of infrastructure, unplanned growth, stability of IT employees etc. Nothing to do with name change. Bengaluru will provide advantage as long as it can provide the great brains at a discount compared to western countries, MNC’s will flock it, whether it is called Bangalore, Bengaluru or Bendakaluru. Get over with it.

    Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkatta are doing just the same, so worries are wrongly placed.

    CNet: TV networks may form anti-YouTube cabal

    December 12, 2006

    CNet has this story about big network’s(NBC, FOX, CBS) alternative to YouTube, interesting and probably makes sense (a la Oribitz by big airlines?) . But there are so many hurdles mainly from within.

    The talks deal with complicated matters for the networks–how to put programming on the Internet without cannibalizing TV efforts; how to do that quickly enough to prevent YouTube from profiting; and how to avoid ceding control or branding to partners.

    If networks are just worried about YouTube’s profit, then they dont have any moral high ground in this. Instead, if their focus is how they can protect their content without alienating the vast majority of users who are already used to free video, then it makes sense.

    Looks like ABC is not participating in this effort. So, there seems less and less chance that this would succeed.

    Finally, it boils down to technology choices they make decides whether such an offering will succeed, it cannot be just another you tube like offering, that allows users to upload their copy of the programs. At the same time, it cannot be a one sided game where in network executives decide what and how much of the programs to be available online.

    They need community involvement, where by users like you and me decide what our friends should watch from a particular episode/newscast. E.g: Just the Headlines section in JayLeno show. Or a small bit of news where they talk about a company that I work for etc. Of course, networks should and can make money form all these things, they are not Google, but nevertheless, they have done this free distribution supported by ad business model for so many years, it would be shame if they can’t do the same on web. BTW, dont force ads just before every video is played out (like Y! news videos does now), instead be smart, identify the user and push him advertisements on screen or in the interval of say 10 minutes. Let it be short and effective, rather than TV like ads.

    May be, better option is to just collect some money from Google and indemnify all the losses from copyright violations of YouTube users.

    Info Week: Consumers Prefer Movie Rentals To Downloads By A Wide Margin

    December 12, 2006

    Information Week has this article that kind of validates the instant gratification issue in on-line video:

    The biggest hurdle for download services is the fact that current movie providers continue to provide a “vastly superior,” and often less expensive, product. “The industry needs to develop reasons and business models that increase overall consumer interest in Internet-delivered video, including allowing for easy transfer and better viewing on the large screen,” Wolf said.

    Of course, when the technology improves and various different devices in your entertainment center is online and work seamlessly to provide a convenient, economical and superior movie viewing experience, consumers will get in.

    My ideal scenario would be a media center that is in your living room hooked into your large TV, you take your remote and browse the online offering (pretty much like viewing on-demand content in Comcast), if it costs less than $4/movie and it is HD content, it is hard to resist. Also, main thing is same set of features as you get in a DVD, i.e: rewind, forward, subtitles, ability to watch it again(n days) etc. Special Features content… nah! I dont care much about those. Sorry, completely forgot…. movie should start in 30 seconds, that is key. I dont feel that I will plan ahead and download a movie that I would watch in the evening.

    Jaman and lucarative world video segment

    December 8, 2006

    Om malik provides an introduction to jaman, which I was curious about (It is Informatica’s founder’s new company) . From the article:

    β€œEveryone is focusing on that one square mile are in Hollywood,” says Dhillon β€” when there is a whole wide world whose content is in demand but is never distributed in the US. From French films to Bollywood potboilers, to the Kung Fu flicks from Hong Kong, the only place to buy (or rent) this content was ethnic grocery stores or small specialist video rental shops.

    That is true, it is really an interesting market, south asians are affluent, who are also great fans of the movies coming from the Indian subcontinent. It is not just the hindi movies that are popular here, but other regional language movies from India like Telugu and Tamil also very popular. In SF bay area, those small video rental shops do good business renting these movies.

    So, in theory it sounds like a great idea, but I have my doubts on it’s practice. For one, those who throng these DVD corner shops, they want their movies NOW! It does not matter if it is a pirated copy or bootlegged one, it is just that they need to watch it that day. So, all these corner shops thrive because they “cater” to their customer’s need. That’s why even with the advent of NetFlix like sites, it is not very popular among the south east asians (living in metro areas like SF bay area), because legally speaking new movies cannot be made available on these sites. More over, technology still has not advanced to a stage where in you just sit in front of the TV and order a movie from jaman. So, instant gratification is a big part of movie renting. (see the InfoWeek Survey results)

    I do see good potential with niche markets that are not properly served today, e.g: a desi doctor living in a rural region of US wants to watch a movie, he might find this kind of distribution very interesting. But, then again, he is not techi :-(. Also, there are some regional languages that are not well served by these “Desi DVD” shops, e.g: I would like to watch Kannada movies, which are not distributed by these shops. So, can I hope of getting it through these online distribution channel? Not sure, because Kannada movies are doomed because the producers and distributors of those movies are overly worried about piracy that they dont allow reproduction into DVD for good year or so. That kills the interest, you’d have forgotten and there is no buzz about it. So, can Jaman cut deal with these producers from niche market (who are not usually well organized and little arrogant serving niche markets)? Thats a big question, IMO.

    Majority of south asians are penny pinchers, dont get me wrong. It is just that most of us came into this country not much in our pockets, so we are always looking at the cost of each service we use, if the desi dvd store gives for $1 a day rental, we are more than happy to get it from him rather than go through the ordeal of going online and downloading the software (and it’s associated bugs πŸ™‚ ) and the movie. Of course, as people start earning more, they do loosen up a bit, start thinking about quality and legality, but for a online market place to succeed, it needs the mass market.

    At the end of the day, no new technology or methods are accepted readily, nay sayers like me are plenty and I will be happy to eat crow when Jaman becomes success. Because, I will be happy to watch a good quality movie that is hard to find in the corner dvd stores.

    Good luck to Gaurav and his team.