Broadband in India is Far from a Reality

Being involved in Startup Saturday Delhi, I have come across a lot of entrepreneurs building Internet applications. Most of them being India centric. The problem, which has been discussed and reported numerous times is that broadband penetration is a miniscule 3% of the whole population. There are roughly 3 million broadband subscribers in India.

Airtel 8Mbps with 4GB Cap
Airtel 8Mbps with 4GB Cap

India being a highly price conscious country, I find it amazing that telcos like Airtel are busy hiking the price of metered “broadband” while degrading service levels. The latest move by Airtel has been to increase the price of their “unlimited” 512k connection to Rs. 1,599 (USD 34) per month. The real kicker is that the speed degraded to 256k after you’ve hit downloads totaling 100GB.

Airtel 512k with 100GB Cap
Airtel 512k with 100GB Cap

At the same time, they are introducing 16Mbps connections for Rs. 2,999 (USD 64) per month that have download caps of 20GB. A single Linux distro download is 4GB. A point upgrade to OS X is generally around 500MB. Buying and downloading a few shows from iTunes or watching a few videos on YouTube and I’ll blow right thru my 20GB limit in a week. If I download roughly 40GB of data in a given month, my Internet access will cost me upwards of Rs. 12,000 (USD 255) per month.

Airtel 16Mbps with 20GB cap
Airtel 16Mbps with 20GB cap

If indian telcos like Airtel were to offer unlimited 1Mbps connections at Rs. 999 (USD 21) and unlimited 2Mbps at Rs. 1,599 (USD 34), the willingness of Indians to spend on Internet access would be much more palatable. Other than those whose careers in some way, shape, or form are connected to the Internet, very few people are willing to spend more than Rs. 999 per month on Internet access. Those that spend Rs. 999 or less per month, get an experience that basically sucks. They are frustrated and completely turned off by the fact that it takes 20 minutes to load a 3 minute video on YouTube.

India will never be a country of mass Internet adoption while the government agencies like TRAI and DoT don’t adopt a definition of broadband that is more inline with shifts in Internet usage. Indian telcos continue to provide subpar speeds at exorbitant prices when compares to the rest of the world. India, touting itself, as the technology center of the 21st Century, must adopt an infrastructure and a coherent policy around broadband deployment and usage. Only with the government mandating the need for widespread Internet adoption, at feasible price points, will there be widespread broadband adoption by non-techies.

However, relying on the government to be so forward thinking is a pipe-dream. What the Indian telcos should do is adopt a model that was instrumental in driving mobile usage in India. Drop the price points so that even the average person (living on Rs. 100 per day), would find Internet usage compelling, useful, and not frustrating. If they were to adopt a mass usage policy and not price their broadband products based on margins, I believe that in 5 years, India could have at least 100 million broadband users (via DSL, cable modem, Mobile 3G, wiMax, etc.) Is it too much to ask the Indian telcos like Airtel, MTNL, BSNL, Tata Communications, Reliance, etc. to push the envelope of adoption? Unfortunately, I think it might be.

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Google Desktop for Linux

On June 27th, Google released Desktop for Linux. I had looked for a download link on the main Desktop page but it only offered a download of Google Desktop for Windows and Mac. The only download link available that I could find was on the Google Desktop Blog.

I installed Desktop for Linux on Ubuntu Feisty Fawn 7.04. The installation process was very straightforward. The first thing I did after installing GDL was to turn off “Advanced Features”. Enabling this will send some search data over to Google, though, they claim it is non-personal data that is sent.

Hitting the Control key twice brings up GDL (unless you’re using Beryl and on a Desktop with no windows open). GDL appears to take a lot less resources than beagle but that could also be because beagle indexes a lot more file types than GDL. GDL searches through Thunderbird email but it would be nice if the search results showed where a specific email was found (mailbox name, application name, or Google Mail). It would also be great if GDL was able to search through contact lists and emails in Thunderbird, Evolution, and Gmail and show me all relevant correspondence with a given contact name or number. GDL does need to improve the ability of searching within Thunderbird. I can’t explicitly say that Evolution results are better as I haven’t used Evolution in a long time.

I have also found that GDL hasn’t indexed all of my OpenOffice or PDF documents. GDL routinely finds no results when I search for a specific person that I have received a PDF from and the PDF is saved on my Desktop. I would expect when I search for that person’s name, GDL would show me the email that I had received from this person, as well as the PDF on my desktop which has his name within the PDF as well.

It’s also a bit annoying that if you have turned on mouse focus in Beryl, the GDL window closes immediately when you move the mouse to another window on the Desktop. This makes taking screenshots impossible in Beryl.

Overall, GDL is not a bad version 1 but there are definitely enhancements that would make this desktop search application much better.

Take a look at my short video of GDL on Ubuntu (and first video on YouTube).

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Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on ThinkPad T60

After the release of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, I decided to try upgrading my installation of Edgy Eft directly using Ubuntu Update Manager. It wasn’t working for various reasons so I used the command line to run apt-get upgrade. That was a big mistake. It downloaded and installed a few packages which upon reboot, broke Gnome. I was able to only get Ubuntu to boot into run level 3. I poked around a bit and couldn’t fix the problems mainly because I didn’t have a wired Internet connection and I couldn’t effectively connect to a Wireless Access Point using Network Manager from the command line (I need to figure out how to connect to a wireless AP from the command line, especially when I can’t remember the WEP or WPA passcodes).

After a frustrating night, I decided to use my MacBook to download the Feisty Fawn LiveCD. I started the download at night via BitTorrent and by the time I woke up, the download was done. I burnt the iso image to a CD and popped the freshly minted CD into my ThinkPad T60. During the installation, I decided to do a completely fresh install of Ubuntu so I wouldn’t have to worry about all the broken dependencies from Edgy Eft and how they might make Feisty Fawn unstable. I did, however, preserve my home partition and mounted that into the installation of Feisty Fawn. The installation process was very easy and allowed me to get my T60 up and running within and hour.

Feisty Fawn picked up all the necessary drivers for the ThinkPad T60. The Intel 3945 wireless drivers were also installed and setup. The Ubuntu installation also allowed me to use the ThinkPad keys for volume control and brightness control with complete OSD. It didn’t appear to install the tpb packages but managed to provide similar functionality.

Feisty even recognized the proprietary ATI drivers that are necessary for the Radeon X1400 in my ThinkPad T60 and made it very easy for me to download and install the drivers, though, they aren’t open source. The open source drivers for the ATI video card were loaded by default and worked pretty well. I’m not doing any gaming on Ubuntu so 3D graphics aren’t a major concern.

I have wanted to play with Beryl and Compiz for a while and now I finally got my chance. It took a bunch of tweaking to get going. Unfortunately, Feisty Fawn has a broken package that doesn’t include the beryl-xgl package. I was able to download an older package and extract the relevant binary and put it into the right place. After a few hours of fiddling with driver updates and getting to the bottom of the whole beryl-xgl problem, I have the ATI drivers running with XGL on Feisty Fawn. Though, I’ve read it’s pretty unstable to use the proprietary drivers with XGL, I’ve yet to see any major problems. Beryl is pretty slick but it’s a resource pig. Even so, I haven’t stopped using it. The only thing that’s a bit annoying is that every time I login, I have to reload the Beryl Window Manager. If I don’t reload, my Metacity mobile themes load up and Beryl doesn’t. This is apparently caused by Beryl crashing immediately upon login but not crash when I reload. I’ll get around to writing a full post on my experience installing Beryl on the T60. Below are some screenshots of Beryl under Ubuntu on my ThinkPad T60.

The obligatory spinning cube
Desktop Under Beryl
Water Effects in Beryl
Wobbly windows effect

Upon booting up into Feisty Fawn, I didn’t notice any significant changes. Luckily all my settings were saved in my home directory and I was quickly attached to my wireless network. I did find that the Network Manager Gnome applet had an option to create a manual configuration which I don’t think it did before.

The sleep functionality is still broken. I can put the T60 to sleep using the hotkeys but waking up from sleep is a problem. However, applying this fix solves the sleep and hibernation problem on Feisty Fawn (unless you are using Beryl).

Overall, I find Ubuntu to be the best desktop Linux distro I’ve used thus far. Though, I’m still more comfortable using and developing on Fedora, I find that the basic things a distro should do work very well on Ubuntu and not so well on Fedora or OpenSuse. There’s a lot more tinkering involved with these other distros. Hence, I’ve decided to install Fedora 7 from the LiveCD into a VMWare appliance. Below are a few screenshots of Fedora 7 running in a VM.
Fedora 7 in a VMFedora 7 Welcome Screen

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openSUSE 10.2 on Lenovo ThinkPad T60

Well, I finally got around to installing openSUSE 10.2 on my ThinkPad T60. Unfortunately, I was running very low on disk space and couldn’t get any screen captures of the installation process.
In general, the installation process went very smoothely. The biggest advantages of openSUSE 10.2 over Fedora Core 6 during the installation process are:

  • Installation picked up my Intel Centrino 3945 and installed the kernel module. Fedora requires you to set this up manually later.
  • openSUSE has the ability to connect to the Internet, get a list of add-on repositories and add them during the installation process. Fedora has a screen where you can add the repositories manually during the installation process but this requires you to know the full URL of the repository.
  • openSUSE also allows you to install third-party applications like Sun’s Java JRE along with the Centrino firmware and kernel module that Fedora requires you download and install from a third-party provider of RPMs such as Livna or RPMForge.

openSUSE also has better fonts and looks “cleaner” and cripser than Fedora. Proprietary ATI drivers on openSUSE are easily available and installable. The default installation used a VESA driver and set the resolution to 800×600 so installing the ATI drivers was important. Fedora does a better job of providing a hi-res driver but installing the ATI drivers on Fedora is also very easy and well documented all over the place.

I’m not using openSUSE as my primary desktop yet. There’s some hacking to be done with my user settings that would allow the same user id and home directory to be used on both systems. I might remove openSUSE and give Ubuntu a whirl.

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Setting up the ThinkPad T60

The first thing I did after I got the T60 was to format the drive, keeping the rescue partition, and resize the first boot partition to give Windows XP 15 GB. I’ve decided to keep XP on this laptop for being able to do firmware upgrades to the Nokia E61 and to be able to access the Motorola SLVR with the Motorola Phone Tools. Other than that, I don’t need XP and I might eventually do away with it.

I manually partitioned the drive into multiple partions. I created at 15GB partition to hold my home directory as I expect to share it between multipe Linux distributions. I created at 2.5GB Swap partition and a 20GB partition to hold Fedora Core 6.

Installing FC6 was as normal as any Linux distribution goes except it crashed when I tried to customize the package installation. Once I ran a standard development environment install, it went smoothly.
fc6_desktop_3.png

After everything was installed, I got to configuring this puppy. I found there was a bit of manual intervention beyond what was required for my old T40. No big deals other than not being able to get the bluetooth working well enough that I can synch all my contacts and calendars from my Nokia E61 to Evolution. I’m not entirely sure where the problem is but I think it’s somewhere in the libsync libraries. Still trying to find an expert who can help me with this.

Configuring the Intel 3945 wireless was pretty painless – for one specific network. Fedora, in my humble opinion, still does not support location based network profiles very well. And for some ver weird reason, running NetworkManager is the only way to get DHCP working on the laptop with the wireless. It’s very weird, but at least I know I have to keep it on if I want to use DHCP. Conversely, if I don’t want to use DHCP (wired or wireless) and I want to employ a static network configuration, NetworkManager MUST be turned off.

fc6_desktop_2.png
Overall, I’ve been very happy having my ThinkPad T60 running Fedora Core 6 but the little things like synching my phone with my calendar and addressbook are things that Fedora is just not cut out for. I’ll see if i can get it working with Ubuntu when I get some time to install it.

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