In quest of excellence

Print edition : December 16, 2005

At the OCB exchange of MTNL-Delhi. - PICTURES: ANU PUSHKARNA

MTNL-Delhi makes rapid strides towards its goal of becoming a total telecom solution provider.

GONE are the days when one had to wait for months together to get a telephone connection or to seek recommendation from political bigwigs for an out-of-turn allotment. Today a telephone connection is not only available easily but is also being literally thrust on people with enticements by private operators who have entered the arena in the wake of economic liberalisation. More than the fixed landline connection, it is the mobile that has made a foray into every household. In the process, the mobile phone has become a great social leveller as it is used not exclusively by the rich and business magnates but also by other sections of society, including petty traders, autorickshaw drivers, professionals and school and college students. A decade ago one could not have visualised this scenario, which has been brought about by advances in telecommunication technology and the opening up of the telecom sector to private enterprises.

For a public sector enterprise that enjoyed a monopoly market until 15 years ago, it is no easy task to survive now. But by all accounts the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL)-Delhi, has successfully reoriented its policies, strategies and work-culture to meet the demands of the new situation, arrest any serious erosion of its customer base and hold its own.

With 343 exchanges, MTNL-Delhi today claims to provide 23.42 lakh connections - 6.3 lakh mobile, 16.1 lakh fixed line and the rest Wireless Local Loop (WLL) mobile connections. In addition, it has 58,060 broadband and 5.34 lakh Internet connections. In a total population of 13.8 million in its coverage area this may not appear significant. However, it is no mean achievement if one takes into account the proportion of the population with adequate purchasing power and the aggressive marketing techniques adopted by private operators. Moreover, until 1986 the telephone system in Delhi had been managed departmentally with all the inherent limitations in providing efficient post-connection services and keeping pace with technological advances. It is only in the last two decades that MTNL, as a public sector enterprise, has been faced with the Herculean task of managing the telephone system in the national capital.

Its first task was to clear the long waiting list for connections and replace the obsolete equipment and network. Modernisation, which is a continuous programme, has had a salutary impact on the fault repair service (FRS). In the past, faults used to occur frequently and it took a long time to rectify them. This was attributed to the mainly paper-core-based network and the construction practices that were in vogue. For instance, connections were given by taking drop-wires from Distribution Points (DPs) mounted on poles. These wires of poor quality were used without proper accessories. Other practices such as installing a number of poles in the same place and interconnected through pipes, providing multiple main distribution frames (MDFs) in the same building and laying underground cables for 10-20 kilometres, especially in the outlying areas, has also contributed to the frequent faults.

All these are now things of the past. Steps have been taken to create pole-less networks, install new remote subscriber units (RSUs) and digital loop carriers (DLCs), phase out paper-core underground cabling, replace E 10B exchanges with new technology exchanges and introduce a centralised network management system. Among others, WLL and digital loop carrier (DLC) systems have been introduced in the customer access network to ensure better performance. The managed leased data network (MLDN) system has been introduced to improve the performance of leased circuits. Line-staff have been provided with pagers for easy follow-up with testing staff for the speedy clearance of faults. All these measures have made a visible dent on the fault rate and fault repair service in recent years. MTNL allows a rebate in rentals if a telephone remains out of order for seven days or more.

WHILE network modernisation has helped MTNL to meet the demand for new connections and improve post-connection service, the diversification of services has helped it meet competition from private operators. Realising that provision of a basic telephone service through a fixed landline would not be enough to survive in the new environment, MTNL has introduced many innovative value-added services to keep its existing customer base intact and attract more subscribers. The state-of-the-art Integrated Subscriber Digital Network (ISDN) enables a subscriber to connect nationally and internationally with all other analogue subscribers via the fast-track super communication highway. The ISDN line has certain advantages over the ordinary phone line. It helps the subscriber establish calls simultaneously - voice, data, image or a combination of any two. An ISDN Primary Rate Access (PRA) subscriber can make 30 individual voice/data calls simultaneously.

The services offered on dial-up basis between two ISDN subscribers include: desk-top video conferencing, video telephony, teleconferencing, transmission of pictures, documents and drawings, high-speed data transmission, high-speed facsimile and access to the Internet at a higher bandwidth. Being a value-added service, ISDN has quite a few supplementary features and has become quite popular. At present, there are 8,778 ISDN connections. Named "Phone-Plus", the value-added facilities include hotline, caller-identification, abbreviated dialling, three-party conferencing, dynamic STD/ISD lock, wake-up alarm, call alert, call forwarding, Virtual Card Calling (VCC) and COSMOS. The hotline facility enables the subscriber to get connected to any single pre-determined number automatically on lifting the handset.

The transmission room.-

VCC is a card facility that enables even those who do not own a phone to make a call from any telephone in the MTNL network to any destination - local, national or international - even if the particular phone is STD barred. VCCs are available in different denominations. One has to dial the access code number and follow the instructions to get connected.

COSMOS is a facility offered for a group of subscribers. It is mainly useful for residents of group housing societies who can use their existing connections as a free-of-charge intercom service; only calls made to a number outside the group are charged. Many housing complexes have opted for this facility, which needs no additional instruments or investment.

Another bonus for MTNL customers is the affordable tariff. New tariff plans which include a monthly rental ranging from Rs.160 to Rs.2,000, have been introduced to suit the needs and paying capacities of different segments of the population. Senior citizens are offered a 25 per cent concession on the monthly rental. Recently MTNL has offered a second rent-free landline for one year to existing landline subscribers. There will be no registration or installation charges for this line. The user charge is Rs. 1.20 per call and there are no free calls. Rent, will be charged after one year and the subscriber can opt for any tariff plan.

Taking into account the advantages of the wireless telephone, MTNL-Delhi has launched a service that has the features of both fixed and wireless connections. Named Garuda - FW, this is a new-age telephone service. With the sturdiness of fixed telephone and the advantages of wireless telephone, it is claimed to be a most economical, futuristic and feature-packed service with pocket-friendly tariff plans. The features include caller-identification, missed call details, short messaging service, hands-free speaker phone, roaming facility at home and, above all, a high speed Internet connection.

For the benefit of corporate firms and groups of telephone users MTNL offers a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Those using it can have practically all the facilities of an electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange (PABX) without owning it, thereby avoiding maintenance hassles. Segregation between private and official calls is possible and VPN subscribers can have their own private numbering plan.

For professionals and information-providers, MTNL offers the Premium Rate Service (PRM). The user is allotted a service number that information-seekers all over Delhi can access through STD phones irrespective of their location. The call charges are to be borne by the caller at a rate higher than the normal charge. The revenue is shared between MTNL and the information provider.

Moving with the times, MTNL became an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in 1996 and is now the second largest ISP in the country. To begin with, access to the Internet was offered through the telephone connection and later through the broadband connection. The MTNL's Internet Express Service, a post - paid service using the telephone connection, became quite popular as the charge was only ten paise a minute, collected through the monthly telephone bill. By dialling a particular number the subscriber gets the Internet connection. For high-speed connectivity between computer terminals, it offers I-NET, a packet switched public data network, with in-built error detection techniques. I-NET is operational in more than 100 cities that have been categorised into three groups on the basis of business activity and demand for different types of I-NET connections. For business organisations this offers a reliable and high-speed data service. The cost of exchange of data within the country and abroad through I-NET is claimed to be the lowest among the different alternatives. Frame relay, a modified form of the packet-switching service, offers the customers permanent virtual circuits (PVC) and high-speed connectivity between LANs (local area networks) in different cities. Typical applications of this facility include Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) connectivity, LAN and WAN (wide area network) connectivity, corporate communications, information retrieval, database services, remote job applications, credit card verifications, travel reservations and electronic fund transfers. The developments in broadband technology have ushered in a revolution in accessing the Internet and MTNL has not lagged behind its competitors in making full use of it. High-speed access to the Internet at an affordable price is now possible on MTNL's broadband based on ADSL technology. There are different tariff plans to suit different segments of users. Recently MTNL reduced the broadband tariff by 50 per cent from Rs.399 to Rs.199 a month for unlimited data download at 256 kbps. Similarly, the tariff for other plans too has been reduced. MTNL's broadband service is quite popular and every day 400 new connections are being provided.

In addition, MTNL has recently introduced wireless broadband service, which provides access to the Internet from public places like airports and restaurants. Brandnamed "Wi-Fine", this enables users with Wi-fi enabled laptops to access the Internet from designated hotspots in different parts of the capital. It is claimed to be a ground-breaking venture in that it envisages a city-wide footprint enabling a single Wi-Fi account to be used across all the hotspots, thereby ensuring account portability.

The CDMA exchange at the CGO complex in New Delhi.-

MTNL-Delhi has set its sights on increasing the broadband connections by 2,50,000 and Internet connections by 1,00,000 during the current year. For this purpose, MTNL has come out with a number of attractive tariff plans. Not one to miss out the opportunities to expand its services in the wake of the "mobile revolution", the MTNL launched its GSM cellular service under the brand name Dolphin and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based WLL service under the brand name Garuda. Both have been received well in the market and MTNL proposes to enhance the GSM network by 4,00,000 connections from its existing capacity of 6,25,000. By 2006-07, it hopes to achieve 20 lakh BG-enabled mobile lines. The CDMA network will be increased by 4 lakh from its existing capacity of 150,000.

To make its mobile service attractive, MTNL recently introduced a few value-added facilities. One of these is the "Dolphin Vault". The holders of symbain handsets can post MMS or photographs in an exclusive vault provided to individual customers on registration. Friends authorised by the subscribers and family members can view the photographs instantly on the Internet. The customer can store more than 500 photographs in the vault. In addition, the customer can maintain thousands of contact numbers in a separate folder in the vault without bothering about any limitation of handset memory.

Yet another new facility is called unstructured supplementary service data (USSD). Pre-paid subscribers can check the balance and recharge the balance by using this facility, which will work even when the customer is in roaming mode in BSNL.

The Voice Mail Service (VMS) is now being provided to all mobile phone customers free of any monthly rental. Earlier, a monthly rental of Rs. 100 was charged and this has now been abolished. The retrieval charges have been reduced from Rs. 2 a minute to 50 paise a minute.

MTNL has also gradually got out of its earlier "departmental work culture". With its focus on marketing it has been now following customer-friendly business practices. Payment of bills has been made easier and hassle-free through Electronic Clearance Service (ECS), the Internet and by using ABB cards of Indian Overseas Bank. Concessions are offered to attract customers for Garuda and Dolphin mobile service connections.

The broadband call centre at the MTNL headquarters.-

Marketing agents have been appointed to promote ISDN, I-NET, and the Internet and sell VCC cards. As many as 88 Sanchar Haats have been set up for marketing telephone instruments, accessories, mobile, the Internet and other services.

In addition, MTNL has launched a customer care portal, (https://customercare.mtnl.in) to help customers transact all the business with MTNL through the Internet. This will bring MTNL closer to the customer by providing a direct communication platform, thereby obviating the need for the customer to stand in a queue. This is claimed to be the first of its kind and unique. MTNL has become a certifying authority and is issuing digital certificates to its customers.

All the transactions of digital certificate users are directly incorporated into the MTNL Customer Services Database, thereby providing instant work order generation.

Though MTNL-Delhi has a near monopoly over the landline segment, it has spread its wings to cover all the telecom segments in pursuit of its mission and vision to become a total telecom solution provider.

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