Why Airtel Threatens the Future of Tech in India


Part 1 of this issue is blogged here.


Back in the 70s when we were laying the telecom network in India, someone cheapened out. They laid the copper wires, but laid very poor quality copper – because we were a third world country at that point and telephones were a luxury. Years later when broadband came to the country, the same infrastructure became the bottleneck because the poor quality copper could not transmit more than 256kbps of data. The Govt had to make enormous investments in optic fibre to get internet access to most of the country.

Truth is, that infrastructure is still primitive. While countries like sweden and Hong Kong are talking about gigabit internet access, we are not able to go beyond 10 – 12Mbps. Airtel, in fact is the worst of them all, and is stuck at 8mbps for limited areas. Most of the locations are maxed out at 4mbps.

Wired connections are very expensive. And in a country where the population is very dense, installing of switches and constantly maintaining and upgrading them is a pain in the ass.

The future of broadband in this country is wireless. And how is it going to go wireless? It will most probably rely on 3G/4G and the future generations of mobile internet.

That’s why What Airtel is proposing is very dangerous. It means for the near forseeable future, and perhaps even into the generation of our children, they will control what we consume and how we consume. That is not acceptable. It makes it harder for service providers to enter into the market – you can see that even today, the middle east, thanks to its anarchy on throttling the internet has very little innovations and services built on top of it. You cannot build services without the operators blessing you.

This affects everything. App developers, Your television that is streaming content, Your chrome box, your messaging apps, video conferencing (as if it wasn’t too darn expensive already), online gaming – and in the future who is to stop these operators from saying that in order for Uber to operate and run on top of their network, Uber needs to pay them, or they will shut them down? They can do that.

The last time the operators had that much control in the name of walled gardens - the people who actually built the service got a pie of less than 30% where the rest was taken by these operators. And we haven't moved an inch further in mobile commerce, or mobile payments thanks to the politics each of them played against each other. The mobile industry grew in the blood of vendors. People like reliance were famous for saying publicly that they don't pay vendors - but thats a whole different story. Thankfully, the mobile platform opened up and app stores liberated developers, service providers and connected them directly to the consumers cutting out the fat boss in between.

There are services we haven’t even thought of yet. Think of the world of the internet of things. Or the future where cars are connected and can talk to each other. Airtel is setting a precedent where each and every one of these service will get blocked, penalized and charged extra for.
You could be signing on, to take a free course on coursera, but will have to buy the educational package.

It is not upto them to decide what rides on the network, and charge for it. TRAI wont – or rather cant – do much on this, because the agreement with the operators are broadly set as “can monetize voice and messaging services” and whether its voice via their own switches or voice via VoIP, they believe it gives them the right.

Net Neutrality and Privacy are very binary debates. Its a one way street – once you step in, there is no way to go back to a free and open internet, much of which has been the reason why the web thrives on innovation. As if India hasnt been set back by annoying statutory regulations, do startups and the technology community and the consumer at large need to be throttled further?

Air your view and make it heard. ‪#‎BoycottAirtel‬

I am collecting social signatures to send Airtel a message on Dec 30th, 2014. Please show your support and sign here : https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/20756-boycottairtel

105 Kudos

16 Responses to “Why Airtel Threatens the Future of Tech in India”

  1. Pratekk

    What you said is absolutely right !! BUT .. I and WE as consumers who are hooked on to the speed will not wait and will move to other networks SOOON …. the only looser EOD will be SPs like Airtel and others will follow !
    Modi Govt should set these guys up right so that they dont govern the driving factors especially costs …

  2. Niel mathew

    You have clearly said it. Letting Airtel implement this would affect the growth of indigenous products as they would have to deal with this additional burden along with the others our ecosystem already have.

  3. ajay pal singh

    hello, i like to know more about the full fledged story how the internet companies is going to affect new innovation, startups and generations as a consumers

  4. Akshay Tyagi

    For people who don’t get what is happening, what Airtel is doing is equivalent to charging someone more for their LPG usage depending on what they cook. Think about being charged twice as much for the same amount of gas if you cook Ramen noodles instead of Maggi noodles. Apart from being an absolute breach of privacy, this is very disruptive for Ramen fans. Ramen will soon go out of business. And newer brands like Ching’s Secret won’t even get a fighting chance.

    I am not exaggerating when I say that THIS WILL RUIN OUR TECH INDUSTRY FOREVER.

  5. Deepak Kanakaraju

    I grew up with the internet. I am out of the rat race because of a neutral Internet. I will take it to the streets and face jail if required to protect Net Neutrality. I will die fighting for Net Neutrality. The internet is the only hope for a better India and better world.

    As of now, #BoycottAirtel Campaign has worked. Airtel has backtracked. But I still still move out of Airtel and proactively spread information about importance of Net Neutrality.

    I will not rest until a law is passed to protect Indian Internet users. Net Neutrality should become a LAW. We demand it.

    – Digital Deepak

  6. Uttoran Sen

    We have to stand up and fight for Net Neutrality. Let us just stop using any service that violates it.

    Good to see that you are doing a campaign on it.

  7. Amit

    Not only arm twisting the customers and charging spl rates for using certain services…they are actually fooling the customers on the data usage volumes. I have personally experienced that airtel is peeling off data volumes from the customers monthly quota. The consumption shown by airtel backend is much much more than the actual data being consumed by the customer and there is no way of technically confronting them as they come up with all random explanations and there is no effective agency to investigate this Unfair Business practice forcing the poor customer to buy ‘top up’ data packs mid month as a compulsion.

  8. Jothish R

    At the same time globally OTT content providers are making more money than the service providers . Look at the most valuable companies across they are OTT content providers , not the SPs . Either the SP has to differentiate the service or hike up the prices for all access to sustain, as voice and SMS revenue is declining at a faster pace .

  9. Vijay Anand

    Voice revenue might be declining, but Data revenue is doubling. Telecom operators Will have to transition from being voice channel providers to internet service providers. What the app guys make is not really their business – its like the farmer saying, heinz makes more money on the ketchup.

Leave a Reply