Ringing in a revolution

Print edition : July 20, 2002

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited not only triggers a telecom revolution in the national capital but successfully meets the challenges posed by private competitors who entered the field in the wake of liberalisation.

IT is now 125 years since Alexander Graham Bell made history by transmitting sound over wire. That was the origin of telephone, which has brought people closer. Once a novelty and a status symbol, telephone is now the lifeline of all human activity. The technology of transmission, too, has developed by leaps and bounds over the years, connecting people even when they are on the move, be it in a car or on a train or a ship or an aircraft. The National Capital of Delhi is no exception to this communication revolution.

Until 1986 the telephone system in Delhi was managed departmentally. The inherent limitations of a departmentally managed organisation to meet the increasing demand for telephone connections, provide efficient post-connection services and keep pace with technological advances led the government to set up a public sector enterprise, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) - to run the telephone system in the metropolitan cities. The task before MTNL was indeed Herculean. It had to, on the one hand, clear the long waiting list for connections and, on the other, replace obsolete equipment. It was no cakewalk but MTNL-Delhi has successfully achieved the twin objectives of providing connections on demand and digitising the system to match international standards. Through innovative services and modernisation it has also been able to meet the challenges posed by the entry of private operators in the wake of liberalisation.

The MTNL headquarters in New Delhi.-

In 1986 Delhi Telephones had 46 exchanges with a capacity of 3,36,700 lines and around 3 lakh working connections. The waiting list for new connections was about 1.5 lakhs. As on May 3, 2002, the number of exchanges had risen to 252 with a capacity of 26.4 lakh lines and the number of working connections had increased to about 21 lakhs. The waiting list got reduced progressively and was cleared on March 31, 1999. Telephone connections are available on demand for the past three years. This is no mean achievement, considering that MTNL-Delhi serves an ever-increasing population on an area of 1,486 square kilometres. When MTNL-Delhi was set up in 1986 Delhi had about 7.5 million people and a tele-density of 3.9. According to the latest census, Delhi's population is 13.8 million and its tele-density as on March 31, 2002, is 15.93. This tele-density may not compare well with the world average or with that in some of the developed countries. But MTNL-Delhi has geared itself to reach higher levels of tele-density, which is one of the indicators of economic development.

One of the first tasks of MTNL-Delhi was to replace obsolete equipment and the worn-out network. The entire switching network, barring a few analogue exchanges, was electro-mechanical and composed of strowger and cross bar equipment. MTNL-Delhi chalked out a phased programme to replace all the old equipment with electronic exchanges. By December 31, 1998, the entire switching network was made electronic. Subsequently, all the Fetex exchanges were replaced progressively with state-of-the-art technology switches. As a result, MTNL-Delhi now boasts a 100 per cent digitised system.

Along with the modernisation of the switching network, the junction network, too, was modernised. Today all the inter-exchange junctions are routed through reliable media. To ensure perfect monitoring of inter-exchange routes, a modern Traffic Control and Management Information System (TCMIS) has been established. Earlier, only E-10B switches were being monitored but now OCB-283 switches are also being monitored through TCMIS. Work is in progress for monitoring the traffic of other new technology switches like 5-ESS and AXE-10.

The modernisation programme has had a salutary impact on the fault repair service (FRS). In the past, faults occurred frequently and took a long time to rectify. This was attributed to not only the old and mainly paper-core-based network but also the construction practices of the time. For instance, Distribution Points (DPs) were provided on poles and connections were given by taking drop-wires from the DPs. Besides being of poor quality, the drop-wires were used without proper accessories. Another practice that led to high incidence of faults was the addition of pillars at the same place and interconnecting them through pipes. Providing Multiple Main Distribution Frames (MDFs) in the same building and laying underground cables for 10-20 kilometres, particularly in the outlying areas, had also contributed to the frequent faults. All these are now things of the past.

A number of measures have been initiated to reduce the fault rate and the time taken to rectify faults. The Fault Repair Service in all the exchanges has been computerised. The booking, testing and making over of the faults to the field staff are now automatic, without human intervention. The complaint booking numbers 198 and 2198 have been fully computerised by introducing the inter-active voice response system in all areas. The paper core underground cables are being replaced by jelly filled cables or optical fibre cables. The duct system has been introduced for high capacity primary cables.

The junction network has been completely transferred to optical fibre cable links and improved by providing Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) systems connected on the ring architecture. The length of the subscriber loop line is being reduced by planning more Remote Subscriber Units (RSUs) and Remote Line Units(RLUs). This helps in reducing faults and the time taken to attend to them as the exchange area is restricted to that node only.

Fixed Wireless in Local Loop (WiLL) and Digital Loop Carrier (DLC) systems among others are being introduced in the customer access network to ensure better performance. Until now 16,620 fixed WiLL and 22,237 mobile WiLL connections have been provided.

The managed Leased Data Network (MLDN) system has been introduced to improve the performance of the Leased Circuits.

The line staff have been provided with 4,366 pagers for easy follow-up with the testing staff for speedy clearance of faults. This has helped reduce the time taken to inform the sectional fault control station and sectional linemen about faults. This, in turn, has helped in speedy rectification of faults.

The policy regarding replacement of old telephone instruments has been liberalised. All instruments more than five years old or repaired more than twice are being replaced in phases with new instruments.

Simultaneously, rehabilitation of external plants in all areas has been undertaken. The thrust of this programme has been on: (a) conversion of pole-mounted DPs into internal wall type DPs; (b) rearrangement of DPs and pillars; (c) straightening ties at the main distribution frames; and (d) use of proper accessories with drop-wires.

All these measures made a visible dent on the fault rate and fault repair service in the last three years. The average fault rate, that is, the number of faults per 100 stations per month, dropped from 30.34 in 1999-2000 to 21.3 in 2001-02. The average duration of faults, that is, the time taken to repair the fault, dropped from 35.46 hours in 1999-2000 to 26.19 hours in 2001-02. Same-day clearance of faults increased from 28.33 per cent to 41.40 per cent during this period. MTNL has been making efforts to rectify faults within 48 hours. In fact, about 70 per cent of the faults are rectified within this period. But there may be occasions when, owing to unavoidable factors, the faults remain non-rectified for a longer period. In order to compensate the customer for long delays, MTNL allows a rebate in rentals if the telephone remains out of order for seven days or more. The rebate is given automatically and the customer does not have to apply for it.

While modernisation helped meet the demand for new connections and improve post-connection service, the real challenge to MTNL lay in meeting the competition posed by the entry of the private operators in the wake of liberalisation. MTNL-Delhi has successfully met this challenge by diversification of its services; it has introduced a number of new and innovative value-added services.

One of these is the state-of-the-art integrated Subscriber Digital Network (ISDN) through which the subscriber can send and receive voice, data, image or a combination of these in digital form. This has connectivity with Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The ISDN line has certain advantages over the ordinary phone line. An ISDN Basic Rate Access (BRA) subscriber can establish two calls simultaneously - voice, data, image or a combination of any two - whereas on an ordinary phone line only one call is possible. An ISDN Primary Rate Access(PRA) subscriber can make 30 individual voice/data calls simultaneously. The call set-up time for ISDN subscribers is extremely short and they have full connectivity to all the other analogue subscribers both nationally and internationally.

The services offered on dial-up basis between two ISDN subscribers include: desk-top video conferencing on using a single ISDN line at 64/124 kbps (kilobytes per second); high quality video conferencing by using three ISDN lines at 384 kbps; video telephony; teleconferencing, which also facilitates transmission of pictures, documents and drawings, high-speed data transmission at 64/128 kbps; high-speed facsimile at 64/128 kbps with G4 fax terminal; access to the Internet with a high bandwidth of 64/128 kbps, giving significantly improved response, time and quality of service.

Being a value-added service ISDN has the following supplementary features: calling line identification; advice on charge; line hunting; close user group; user to user signalling; call waiting; call forwarding and multiple subscriber number. Until now 7,241 ISDN connections, comprising 7,105 BRA and 136 PRA, have been given.

Another value-added service is access to the Internet. For getting this service one should have a personal computer with requisite software, a telephone connection or a leased line and a modem of approved type. The following connections are available: Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) dial-up connection; ISDN (TCP/IP) dial-up connection and Leased line connection (TCP/IP). An affordable tariff has been prescribed for this global access to the world of infotainment.

For high-speed connectivity between computer terminals, MTNL offers the Packet Switched Public Data Network called I-NET with in-built error detection techniques. I-NET is operational in more than 100 cities in the country, categorised into three groups on the basis of business activity and demand for different types of I-NET connections. New Delhi falls under Group A along with Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune. I-NET has connectivity to data networks all over the world. For business organisations this offers a reliable and high-speed data service.

The calls are established within one or two seconds making it suitable particularly for on-line applications like credit card verification and the like. Data is transferred virtually error-free. I-NET offers connections like X.25, X.32 and X.28 dial-up and Frame Relay. The X.25 connection enables multiple calls to be handled simultaneously. The cost of exchange of data within the country and abroad through I-NET is the lowest among the different alternatives; the charges are the same for any distance. An X.25 connection is provided on a leased line from the I-NET exchange. An X.32 access is available to all X.25 customers and it enables them to have a back-up access to the I-NET using PSTN. It has all the functions of X.25 on dial-up. An X.28 lease customer can receive or make only one call at a time, similar to a normal telephone connection. The customer can use a computer with appropriate communication software.

Frame relay is a modified form of the packet switching service and is available up to 64000 Kps. Frame relay customers can have permanent virtual circuits (PVC) and high-speed connectivity between LANs (local areas networks) in different cities.

The I-NET service is useful for 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. A customer of I-NET can call any terminal/computer connected to a telephone in any of the I-NET cities. The customer can also originate calls from all over the country where I-NET facility is not available by using 1711 facility of I-NET to telephone subscribers at any of the I-NET cities for data communications. The telephone being called should have the prescribed modem connected to it. Customers of data networks abroad can also originate data calls to any I-NET subscriber by using DNIC 4049 followed by the city code and the called telephone number. The call will be charged in the network as a data call, which is cheaper than a direct telephone call. Calls are billed to the calling customer.

MTNL offers a dedicated dial-up service, which enables the creation of private networks within I-NET at a much cheaper rate. Telephones owned by organisations desiring this service are terminated in the I-NET Exchange as PSTN port. The central computer and database of the organisation can be located in any of the I-NET cities or connected to any other national or international public data network. To access the central computer one has to dial the dedicated local telephone number of the organisation in I-NET. The I-NET routes the call automatically to the destination central computer. The callers need not be I-NET customers. The charges are paid by the organisation, which subscribes to this service.

What are the advantages to the organisational subscribers? Since the interface equipment and telephone are in MTNL/I-NET Exchange premises there is a saving on operation/maintenance costs of equipment, spares and power supply. The users in a city are not constrained by the congestion of common I-NET dial-up ports. This service also enables error-free transmission and low-cost data transfer, provides multiplexed connection, ISDN and Internet access and global access. Until now 2,901 I-NET connections have been given.

MTNL also offers a bonanza to corporate firms in the form of Virtual Private Network (VPN). It enables subscribers to establish a private network using the resources of a public network. VPN subscribers can have practically all the facilities of an electronic PABX without owning it, thereby avoiding maintenance hassles inherent to PABX. There is no need for VPN subscribers to take leased lines between their locations. Segregation between private and official calls is possible. Individual lines on the VPN need not be given STD facility; VPN subscribers can have their own private numbering plan. The dialing procedure for the VPN service would depend upon the type of location from which the service is to be accessed: virtual on-net location or off-net location. The virtual on-net locations (telephone numbers) are those defined by VPN customers to be a part of their VPN numbering plan. These telephone lines may be existing ones or new connections taken specifically for the VPN service. Telephone numbers, which do not form part of the VPN, are called off-net location.

If VPN is a bonanza for the corporate sector the Premium Rate Service (PRM) is a boon to professionals, information providers and information seekers. This service enables professionals and information providers to offer their consultation using the telecom network. MTNL, which is the network operator, allots a PRM service number to the professional/information provider and this number can be accessed by information seekers all over Delhi through STD phones irrespective of the location of the information provider. The call charges are to be borne by the caller and since the charges are at a higher rate it is called Premium Rate Service. The revenue earned by MTNL from the call charges is shared between MTNL and the Information Provider. For the same PRM service number the PRM subscriber can have a number of destination numbers and the call will be automatically routed to those numbers through the Intelligence Network. This service also provides time-dependent routing, which enables the PRM subscriber to have several installations in the network and specify flexible routing of different calls, depending upon time, day, date, holiday and so on. It also provides location-dependent routing, whereby the subscribers can have several installations (directory numbers) and can specify flexible routing, depending upon the area of origination of incoming calls.

MTNL has not lagged behind the private operators in providing mobile phone service. It has launched its GSM cellular service under the brand name Dolphin and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based WiLL service under the brand name Garuda. Toll-free service, automatic changed number announcement and calling line identification are some of the other services provided by MTNL.

Besides launching innovative services, MTNL has been following innovative business practices. One of these seeks to make payment of bills easier, obviating the need for the customer to stand in long queues. The customers can now pay the Bills through Electronic Clearance Service (ECS). On a mandate from the customer, MTNL will collect the money from the customer's bank account. The customer will get a copy of the Bill for information. It is also possible to make the payment through the Internet and by using ABB cards of IOB. This marks MTNL's foray into e-commerce.

Free 100-hour Internet connections were offered on booking of Garuda and Dolphin mobile service connections during the India International Trade Fair 2001 and Health Mela. New marketing agents were appointed for promoting ISDN, I-NET, and the Internet along with sale of VCC cards. A number of Sanchar Haats have been set up for marketing telephone instruments and accessories. The STD rates were reduced from January 14, 2002, and installation fee waived from January 18.

After MTNL came in the telecom scenario in the capital is no longer what it used to be in the past. The proof, if any is needed, lies in the growing number of satisfied customers of basic services, which has crossed the two-million mark.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×