Towards total solutions

Print edition : July 18, 2003

MTNL offices in New Delhi. The phenomenal expansion of MTNL-Delhi's line capacity has come about without it having to compromise on efficiency of service. - V. SUDERSHAN

The Delhi unit of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited has recorded phenomenal growth despite the entry of private players in the telecommunications sector. Today it is offering a range of value-added services and customer-friendly measures.

FROM coping with the herculean task of clearing a long waiting list for basic telephone connections to offering total telecommunications solutions, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), Delhi has indeed come a long way. When in 1986 it took over the management of the telephone system in the national capital from Delhi Telephones that was managed by the Department of Telecommunications, MTNL-Delhi inherited 46 telephone exchanges with a capacity of 3.3 lakh lines, most of which faced the constraint of either obsolete technology or worn-out equipment. With these it had to serve around three lakh existing connections and provide another 1.5 lakh connections in order to clear the waiting list.

So its first task was to expand line capacity not only by increasing the number of exchanges but also modernising the entire switching system. It was by no means an easy task and there was no dearth of sceptics who could not see much of a difference between a departmentally run organisation and a public sector enterprise in terms of efficiency as both are perceived to be under bureaucratic control. But MTNL-Delhi has proved the sceptics wrong by not only making telephone connections available on demand (except in technically non-feasible cases) but also offering a wide range of value-added services.

The gross switching capacity has risen from nearly four lakh lines in 1986 to around 30 lakh lines as on March 31, 2003.This marks a nearly eight-fold increase over the last 17 years. The number of exchanges has grown during this period from 46 to 309. The waiting list for basic connections was cleared on March 31,1999 and since then connection is available on demand. This means that MTNL-Delhi has cleared not only the 1.5 lakh applications that were pending in April 1986 but also applications received thereafter. The number of subscribers of landline phones has risen to about 22 lakhs. Delhi now has a tele-density of 26.86, which is the highest among all States, and the contribution of MTNL-Delhi to this achievement is significant. Expansion of this magnitude has come about without it having to compromise on efficiency of service. This fact is indicated by the steady improvement with regard to the fault rate and call completion rate figures.

The phenomenal growth recorded by MTNL-Delhi could be attributed to a large extent to market forces. With the commencement of privatisation in the telecom sector in the mid-1990s, MTNL-Delhi lost its monopoly position and it no longer operated in a seller's market. The entry of private operators resulted in the telecom sector becoming a buyer's market. The customer now had a range of options. MTNL-Delhi had to face severe competition from the private telecom operators not only in the matter of value-added services but also in basic telephone services. Its survival depended not only on the expansion and modernisation of the network but also on improvement in the quality of delivery of its services and the diversification of its activities into new means of communication. It had to go much beyond the basic telephone service.

Modernisation

MTNL-Delhi has modernised its network in the last few years by replacing old exchanges with state-of-the-art exchanges and replacing paper-insulated cable with jelly-filled and optical fibre cable (OFC). It has installed more than 3,000 km of OFC and added digital loop carriers. A large number of analog electronic exchanges have been replaced by the latest digital switches.

As part of the modernisation and diversification programme, MTNL-Delhi recently launched broadband on its CDMA-based (code division multiple access-based) mobile services. CDMA 1x allows subscribers to access data at the speed of 144 Kbps. It has also started Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) services as a pilot project. This enables simultaneous availability of phone and Internet on the existing telephone line. There will be no call charges for Internet access and the subscriber will be always Internet-connected. It provides good download speed. One can register for this service on the phone and Web; there is no need to visit the MTNL office. This service is available in two categories, one for individual/single users and the other for commercial/multiple users. There is a one-time registration fee of Rs 3,000 and installation and testing fees of Rs.1,000 for both the categories. Besides, one has to pay a security deposit, which is Rs.3,000 for the first category and Rs. 4,000 for the second. There are four tariff plans under each category. MTNL plans to expand this service and offer video-on-demand, entertainment and educational services through its network.

MTNL-Delhi has proved the skeptics wrong by not only making telephone connections available on demand but also offering a wide range of value-added services.-M. LAKSHMAN

Phone-Plus Facilities

A number of additional facilities for phone users have been introduced. Named "Phone-Plus" facilities, these include `hotline', calling line identification, abbreviated dialling, three-party conferencing, dynamic locking of subscriber trunk dialling and international subscriber dialling (STD and ISD), automated wake-up alarm, new call alert and call forwarding, The hotline facility enables one to get connected to any one pre-determined number automatically on lifting the handset. The calling line identification protocol (CLIP) facility helps subscribers to identify the caller. For this there should be an add-on device on the existing phone or a phone with an in-built device to display the calling number. The abbreviated dialling facility enables callers to dial the most frequently called numbers by pressing just one or two numbers on the dial pad. A maximum of 20 numbers can be programmed for this. The conferencing facility enables the placing of a call to a third party while talking with someone and also allows all the three parties to listen and speak to each other. Some of these services are made available for a nominal charge, while dynamic STD/ISD locking, wake-up alarm, call alert and call forwarding facilities are provided free of charge.

For those subscribers who desire to have the answering machine facility, MTNL-Delhi offers a special service. Under this service, MTNL has a centralised answering machine wherein voice messages meant for those who have registered for this service are stored. The subscriber can retrieve the message. A family mail box facility is available too.

ISDN

The Integrated Service Digital Network service offered by MTNL-Delhi helps the subscriber to get on to the communication super-highway. On a telephone line from this network the subscriber can send and receive in digital form voice, data, image or a combination of these at his or her premises. The ISDN facility is available by and large in all the major cities in the country. It has connectivity with also Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. An ISDN (BRA) subscriber can establish two simultaneous independent calls, which could be voice, data, image or combination of any two, whereas only one call is possible on an ordinary telephone. An ISDN (PRA) subscriber can make 30 simultaneous individual voice/data calls. ISDN subscribers have full connectivity to other analog subscribers both nationally and internationally. Desk-top video-conferencing is possible by using a single ISDN line at 64 Kbps or128 Kbps. High-quality video-conferencing is possible with three ISDN lines at 384 Kbps. Video-telephony, teleconferencing and access to the Internet with a higher bandwidth are other features of this service. Being a value-added service, it offers many supplementary facilities.

Major ISP

By the time MTNL cleared the waiting list and started providing phone on demand four years ago, the Internet had emerged as a major medium of communication. MTNL-Delhi was quick to identify the huge market potential and made a foray into it. MTNL-Delhi became an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in February 1999. A number of advantages are cited for the service. A post-paid service, named the MTNL Internet Express Service, has become popular among Internet users. The tariff works out to10 paisa a minute and it is charged in the regular telephone bill. No Internet account is required; simply by dialling 24880000 one gets the connection. The telephone number from which one is logging in will be the user ID (identity code). The MTNL Dialler facility saves in memory the user name and password and remembers the access numbers for various services. There is an automatic disconnection facility after a pre-set time with user alerts. MTNL-Delhi says that its Internet service is the fastest, cheapest, easiest and the most reliable one. MTNL-Delhi is today the largest ISP in Delhi. It has more than 2.5 lakh subscribers, which constitutes a remarkable market share.

MTNL has introduced the Internet telephony service under the brand name Bol-Anmol. This enables a subscriber with a personal computer to make telephone calls to international destinations through the Internet. Based on the latest technology, this service reduces the cost of international calls.

E-mail

Electronic mail, or e-mail, has become the fastest means of communication and traditionally it was transmitted through the Internet. MTNL-Delhi has come out with an innovative service that enables one to send and receive e-mail through the telephone. One does not need a personal computer or Internet connection anymore to send or access e-mail. This unique "mtnlmail" service is based on text-to-speech conversion and voice command recognition software. It converts e-mails of any length with text and attachments into voice, which can be listened to on one's landline or cellular phone. Similarly one can send voice e-mail through the landline or cellular phone, which can be retrieved by the addressee over a telephone or in a personal computer as a voice message. This has been launched in Delhi as a pilot project and within a period of three months this service has attracted a sizeable number of subscribers.

Garuda Mobile

Apart from the Internet, mobile telephony is the order of the day. Shoulder-to-shoulder with the private operators, MTNL-Delhi launched its wireless in local loop (WLL) service under the brand name "Garuda-1x" recently. This is based on CDMA technology, which provides communication data too. It has various flexible tariff plans and handset acquisition plans.

Communications Minister Arun Shourie with Narendra Sharma, Chairman and Managing Director, MTNL, at the launch of Garuda-1x mobile phone in New Delhi on May 17.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Value-added services

Considered to be a revolution in data communication networking, the I-Net service offered by MTNL-Delhi provides high-speed connectivity among computers. It is a packet switched public data network and has connectivity to data networks all over the world through the gateway packet switched system and the remote area business message network. It offers reliable and high-speed data services for a range of business activities. MTNL justifiably claims for I-Net several advantages over other modes of data communication. Calls are established in I-Net within one to two seconds, and this makes it suitable for online applications such as credit card verification. The data transfer is virtually error-free. The multiplexed connection enables multiple calls to be handled simultaneously on a single connection in I-Net. The cost of exchange of data through I-Net is the lowest among the different alternatives. The charges are independent of distance. It provides international access. It has a wide gateway. Some of the typical applications of this facility include automatic teller machine connectivity, LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) connectivity, e-mail service, corporate communications, information retrieval, travel reservations and electronic fund transfer. More than a hundred cities in the country are covered by this service.

Intelligent Network Services

MTNL offers IN services with features that enable even those who do not have their own connections to avail themselves of some the services. One of the recently introduced IN-based services is the virtual phone card, which enables those who do not have a phone or fax connection of their own to use any phone or fax facility without charge liability to that facility. The call charges are billed to the virtual phone card account and not to the telephone from which the call is made. You can communicate the virtual phone card number to those from whom you wish to receive calls and fax messages. Messages sent to the virtual phone card number will be stored in a mailbox and the holder of the card can retrieve them. Up to 10 voice messages and 10 fax messages can be stored simultaneously and these will be automatically deleted every seven days. The sender has to dial the virtual phone card number and follow the instructions for storing the message in the mailbox. After the message is recorded the sender can, by pressing the # button, exercise options such as reviewing the message and marking the level of priority. The pre-paid cards are available in denominations of Rs.300 and Rs.600, valid respectively for three months and six months. Fifty per cent of this amount represents charges for the mailbox and the balance for outgoing calls.

Another popular IN service introduced earlier by MTNL-Delhi is the virtual calling card (VCC) with which one can make local, STD or ISD calls from any telephone. The difference between this and the virtual phone card is that this allows only direct communication for making outgoing calls, whereas the virtual phone card scheme also envisages messages being stored and retrieved.

For the sake of corporates and groups of telephone subscribers, a virtual private network (VPN) scheme has been introduced, which offers all the facilities of an electronic private automatic branch exchange (PABX) from ordinary telephone lines. A virtual network within a real network, it gives the user the feeling of in-house connections to any destination, although the connections are switched by the public network. In short, VPN enables subscribers to establish a private network using the resources of a public network, thus avoiding the hassle of owning and operating a PABX. It is a network meant to customise one's communication needs.

For professionals, information providers and information seekers the premium rate service (PRM) offers the facility of providing professional advice and consultation using the telecom network. The professional is allotted a PRM number by MTNL, which can be accessed by those seeking the professional's advice. The call charges are higher than normal and the revenue earned by MTNL is shared between the professional and MTNL. This enables one's business to flourish.

Yet another facility for those in business is the free phone service (toll free) service. Those who subscribe for this service are called FPS subscribers and they are given FPS numbers. Business customers can call this number without paying for it. The FPS subscriber will be billed for the call.

Leased lines

In order to improve the quality of service, MTNL-Delhi has introduced the managed leased line network (MLLN), a fully managed access network. This allows MTNL to keep end-to-end control over the customer circuit and thereby ensure quality of service and provide solutions to the data networking needs of the customer. An overlay network realised through state-of-the-art networking elements, it offers multiple value-added and customised services to customers. In a way it provides a nation-wide platform for corporate services such as data, interconnection of LANs and digital private lines.

Bill payment

One of the hassles faced by phone subscribers related to the payment of bills. To make for ease of payment, MTNL-Delhi has introduced a number of schemes. One is a voluntary deposit scheme under which the subscriber makes an advance deposit in a revolving account with MTNL. MTNL debits the monthly bill amount from the sum and also pays interest on the deposit. Under the electronic clearance scheme (ECS), MTNL collects the bill amount directly from the subscriber's bank account based on a mandate from the customer. One can opt out of this at any time if necessary and there is no extra cost for the service. Those holding Indian Overseas Bank's Any Branch Banking card can pay through the MTNL website. MTNL has also tied up with ``billjunction.com'' and the ``infinity banking'' service of ICICI Bank to facilitate online payment.

A subscriber can pay a bill by dialling 1901-33-1901. Citibank credit card holders can pay through the card. MTNL-Amex co-branded credit card also facilitates bill payment.

IDBI Bank ATM and I-Netbanking services enable customers to make online payment at any ATM centre or from a personal computer. Once the customer registers for this service with an IDBI Bank branch, he or she will receive bills electronically on ATM and I-Netbanking screens.

Master Card holders can pay through select petroleum outlets of Indian Oil Corporation. Besides, what are called Express Depository Machines have been installed at the bill collection centres in Eastern Court, Bhikaji Cama Place, Nehru Place and the CGO Complex on Lodhi Road in Delhi, where cheques can be deposited. Bills can be paid by cheque in the designated branches of seven banks.

If a telephone gets disconnected owing to non-payment of a bill, the quick restoration cell (QRC) service can be used for the restoration of the connection without having to visit an MTNL office and present proof of payment.

True to its motto, MTNL-Delhi has become the lifeline of Delhi, offering total telecommunications solutions, and going far beyond being a basic telephone operator.

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