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Plugged into the broadband bout
BAND BOX
BSNL: One cable link to provide telephone, cable TV, high-speed Internet access, movie and music downloads, video-on-demand and video conferencing. State-of-the-art modems and set-top-
boxes to be offered free
Reliance Infocomm: From
basic telephony to digital
communication solutions for
simultaneous voice and data
transmission over one line,
toll-free numbers, corporate
calling card, Internet access, Internet telephony, data centre hosting, conferencing and messaging facilities

The broadband battle has begun. From BSNL’s trial run in a block of flats at one end of the E.M. Bypass to Reliance’s gentle foray into Ballygunge Circular Road, convergence is steadily emerging as the key word of communication in Calcutta. But confusion clouds clarity, guesstimates outgun information. Here’s a closer look at the ground — or underground — reality of the convergence conflict…

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, the state-owned telephone service provider, is launching its broadband service in seven cities, including Calcutta, on January 26. A soft launch has invaded 48 households in Udita. “We are satisfied with what they are offering,” declares a spokesperson for the housing complex off the Bypass.

The services offered through one cable link can be accessed with state-of-the-art modems and set-top boxes, being offered free to the user. The monthly charges are billed to be somewhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500. “By August, we will be in a position to extend these services to the entire city,” says Prithpal Singh, chairman, BSNL. As per plans, all 300 small exchanges around the city — Remote Line Units in BSNL parlance — will be geared to offer the broadband services.

The entertainment services will be outsourced. Besides “always-on” Internet access, BSNL will tap corporate customers through virtual private network based on Internet protocol, providing a secure, dedicated closed-user group.

Reliance Infocomm will provide full-scale services in the city “within the next six months”, taking its fibre-optic network to the basement of 5,000 buildings in a phased manner.

Telephony, multimedia and broadband is the three-in-one mantra that the Reliance marketing team is already hard-selling to select housing societies. “Given the strength of our network and connectivity, roping in customers won’t be a problem, as we will be the single vendor offering the entire gamut of services,” says a spokesperson, while declining to put a price tag on the facilities. The Reliance wireless service in the city will be in place “within the next 45 days” and Calcutta will be completely wired “by the first half of 2003”.

A clutch of cable operators has come together as Alliance Broadband Services to provide Internet-related services and do their bit to slow down the Reliance-BSNL bandwagon. Claiming control of 17 non-RPG Netcom ‘master control rooms’ — with around 15 cable operators each — Alliance has decided to provide “unlimited Internet access for around Rs 500 a month”, from the third week of January.

“Cable connection and other services will later be offered as a complete package,” claims Dwijen Mandal, director of Alliance, adding that 11mbps of bandwidth have been taken from the Software Technology Park.

Bottomline: The ICE (information, communication, entertainment) Age is upon us. Just take your pick and plug in.

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