Broadband: With DSL, Copper’s Gold

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Broadband has long been like the proverbial Godot for Indian Internet users–it

is supposed to be there but it never comes. As users–both business and

residential–began yearning for it, they were often promised of it, but a fat

pipe always remained, and still remains, elusive. Paradoxically, this is the

state of affairs in a country where almost all the broadband technologies–be

it DSL, cable modem, ISDN or Ethernet–have been deployed commercially. While

some of the broadband services failed because of flawed business models (like

high subscription charges and high CPE cost), services like DSL did not take off

because of regulatory hurdles, while others like cable modem failed because the

technology wasn’t suitable. And in all these, non-existence of a critical mass

of users has certainly been a major issue.



despite not so friendly regulatory regime, mostly private players are currently

offering whatever broadband service exists in India. However, none of them have

made any significant impact. Significantly, incumbents BSNL and MTNL never

really thought of deploying broadband services. This lack of interest of

incumbents has surely contributed to this long Indian wait for broadband. It was

only recently that BSNL took an initiative. However, it is still unclear what

strategy it is looking at.

Is DSL the Way to Broadband?

A number of broadband technologies have long been there. However, none has

been as successful as DSL. In broadband markets across the world, DSL has been

fast emerging as the residential broadband technology of choice. In fact, DSL

has been regularly eating into the cable modem broadband market in countries

like US. However, in India DSL has remained a non-starter, largely because

incumbents who own millions of the copper loops have never really taken it

seriously. In the context of the global success of DSL, BSNL or for that matter

MTNL or any of the new private fixed service providers could do well by

considering DSL for taking broadband to homes. That apart, the very nature of

the DSL technology and the falling cost of DSL equipment makes it the best

option for broadband-hungry but price-sensitive Indian users.


3Q02 DSL Port Shipments

Falling Equipment Costs

Today, it would not cost more than $100—150 including the cost of CPE for

taking DSL to a residential subscriber. The same used to cost around $250—300

only a year ago. This clearly shows a downward trend in the DSL equipment

prices. In fact, an important factor in the growth of DSL in the Asia-Pacific

region has been the fierce competition among the DSL equipment manufacturers

based in China and Taiwan. That has pushed the per-port price of DSLAM from some

of the vendors to $82. Leading global vendors like Alcatel, Siemens, Lucent and

Cisco have been under increasing pressure from equipment vendors in China,

Korea, Japan and Taiwan. "After including duties of around 30 percent, DSL

equipment should cost in the range of $125 per line in India," Ruchir

Godura of UTStarcom observes.




(South Asia), UTStarcom

Prices of ADSL modems too have been falling steadily, so much so that they

are becoming commoditized products. This is forcing manufacturers to make money

on volumes rather than on value-adds. ADSL modems are now available in Taiwan

for $50—60 and are expected to become cheaper in the coming year as ADSL

becomes even more widespread in the region and competition among vendors becomes

fiercer. In fact, in many ways most of the US and European vendors of DSL

equipment have been pushed out of the Asia-Pacific market because they have not

been able to match the prices offered by the regional manufacturers. The input

cost of manufacturing has been so competitive in the region that China has

emerged as one of the most important manufacturing base for Alcatel, the largest

DSL equipment vendor globally. "Our company Sanghai Bell has been able to

manufacture DSL equipment at Asian prices," points out Alcatel’s Bernard



Some of the vendors are offering ADSL modems with built-in routers that have

VPN and voice capabilities. DSL CPE manufacturers are also integrating wireless

technologies like 801.11 to accommodate in-premises data distribution and

Internet sharing on existing media types such as wireless, phone line, and power

line. The next evolution in home networking will address the serious problem of

in-premises multimedia distribution using existing media types, and will require

a solution that delivers guaranteed QoS. All this has transformed DSL modems

into integrated access devices (IAD). However, these additional functionalities

are not required for an average user, at least here in India at this juncture.


Success Stories From Around the World

cost and suitability of technology apart, a combination of other factors

that include government initiatives like promoting use of broadband for

education (like in South Korea), deregulation (primarily unbundling of

the local loop and allowing private sector participation), demographics

(high PC and internet population), low tariffs, services and vigorous

competition has made DSL as the residential broadband technology of

choice across the world. Currently, there are around 28.5 million DSL

subscribers which amounts to around 37 per cent of global broadband

connections. The Asia Pacific region (primarily South Korea, Japan.

Taiwan and China) account for almost half (47 per cent) of the total DSL

subscribers, while Europe has 29 per cent and the US 21 per cent. DSL

deployment has helped broadband Internet grow tremendously in South

Korea, Japan and China (in that order) in the past one year. The growth

has been particularly exceptional in South Korea where between December

2000 and September 2002 the number of Internet subscribers via ADSL

increased from 2.35 million to over 5 million, representing an increase

of around 113 per cent. Japan has around 4 million DSL subscribers.

China currently has 1 million DSL subscribers. DSL growth has also been

encouraging in Western Europe where incumbent service providers are

focussed on DSL to offset declining voice revenues and a combination of

factors have pushed DSL on the forefront of the broadband push. In

Central and Eastern Europe too, DSL is likely to emerge as the dominant

broadband technology in the coming years. In 2001, xDSL surpassed cable

modem as the predominant standard for broadband in Latin America. By

2007, there will be more broadband subscribers using xDSL in the region

than all other access technologies combined. Similar is the case in the

United States where DSL’s share in the broadband services market is

growing fast.

The Technology

The falling cost of equipment apart, the very nature of the DSL technology

has also been the key to the growing popularity of DSL among service providers

across the world. Even though DSL utilizes standard telephone lines, users can

move data along those lines at higher speeds. And this is reason why it is

particularly suitable for incumbent fixed line telcos like BSNL and MTNL who own

millions of last mile copper loops. The service works best for users who live

within three-and-a-half miles from the telephone company’s central office or

where the DSL equipment is located – the more the subscriber is closer to the

central office the better speed he gets. And even if the subscriber were farther

then the prescribed distance from the central office, he would get a far better

speed than a dial up or a cable modem. This is because DSL is rate adaptive,

that is, it adapts the communication speed to the user’s modem and distance

from the service provider’s point-of-presence. In fact, Rate Adaptive DSL is

being touted as the best bet for residential broadband as it provides maximum

bidirectional bandwidth from a DSL circuit.


of  DSL and other technologies
Parameters ADSL Dial


Speed ADSL

offers dedicated speeds (up to 6 Mbps downstream and up to 640 Kbps


speed only 56 Kbps

modem exists on shared network, therefore speed performance unpredictable,

speed dependent on network traffic volume

guaranteed speeds only up to 128 Kbps (running on two channels at 64 Kbps

Flexibility Fully

scalable with wide range of potential speeds

limitation of 56 Kbps makes upgrade impossible

scalable as maximum bandwidth is 128 Kbps
Reliability Since

ADSL offers dedicated access, it avoids the time consuming process of dial

in for the Internet. Low risk of ownership due to minimal hardware


up access is often faced with tedious process of dialling in for Internet


access makes speed performance unreliable and unpredictable

has a high risk of ownership due to extensive hardware requirement
Price DSL

is priced on a flat monthly rate with no additional usage for unlimited

access/telephone charges. Also, one connection can be cost-effectively

shared by multiple users

up access can have monthly telephone charges

can have costly monthly phone usage charge in addition to Internet access
Accessibility As

ADSL rides on existing copper phone lines, it can reach 100 per cent of

the telephone users


modem utilizes young network infrastructure that is shown to have sporadic

and inconsistent service availability.

One of the most notable features of DSL service is that subscribers get a

single secure line that directly connects to the service provider and users get

dedicated bandwidth as the line is not shared with any other user. All DSL

technologies exploit the available spectrum in copper telephone lines, employing

advanced modulation techniques to carry high-speed data transmissions. The basic

differences among the DSL technologies lie in their communication speed,

operating distance, and suitable applications. Apart from using the existing

copper lines, all DSL technologies offer certain other benefits like

partitioning voice and data traffic. And since the services can be rolled out on

the existing infrastructure and requires only minimal changes in the access

facilities, service rollouts are not risky bets for service providers. Moreover,

service providers can easily adapt their existing customer support, billing, and

installation activities to support DSL services.




director, Alcatel


All DSL technologies require a similar configuration of user and service

provider equipment. At the user end, DSL access requires a copper phone line

that is connected to a DSL modem (or router). At the service provider’s

central office or PoP, DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM) connects multiple users

and passes the transmissions to their respective voice and data networks. DSLAM

also separates incoming voice and data signals and directs them onto appropriate

carrier networks.

Of the various DSL technologies a la IDSL, SDSL, HDSL, ADSL and VDSL, ADSL

has emerged as the technology that is driving residential broadband. The nature

of ADSL technology makes it fit for Web browsing and other Internet applications

in which users download far more information than they upload. It transmits a

much higher downstream rate than upstream.

This asymmetric nature of ADSL also means that it is not optimized to support

business applications that require roughly equal amount of bandwidth upstream

and downstream. ADSL supports a variety of transmission speeds, determined by

line quality, wire gauge, and the distance between the customer premises and the

central office.



  2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 CAGR

Modem (Units)
4820 6459 9329 13856 22504 36%

  34% 44% 49% 62%  

Modem (Revenue Rs M)
54.22 61.35 74.63 99.76 130.52 19%

  13% 22% 34% 31%  


  2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 CAGR

184 248 356 529 865 36%

  35% 44% 49% 64%  

(Revenue (Rs M)
133.4 161.2 195.8 259.21 371.95 23%

  21% 21% 32% 43%  

IDC India

On other hand VDSL, which supports both the symmetric and asymmetric data

transfer, can be used for high bandwidth enterprise applications. In fact, ADSL

itself in combination with the integrated access devices can be an attractive

broadband option for business users.

IP verses ATM Battle

Interestingly enough, the IP verses ATM battle seems to have entered the DSL

arena also. While the world’s largest DSL equipment vendor Alcatel is still

not ready to believe in IP, UTStarcom, the largest vendor of IP DSLAMs, is sure

that it is the future. "We don’t believe in IP DSLAM because quality of

service is not guaranteed on IPDSLAM, as IP networks are still not reliable.

Today, DSLAM means ATM because we would still need ATM from the CPE to the DSLAM,

as IP would not work there," Alcatel’s Bernard Grave says, explaining why

IP isn’t suitable.


Grave, however, doesn’t discount IP completely and Alcatel has a DSLAM that

supports IP. "We have a universal DSLAM (A 7300) that supports all DSL

types be it ADSL or VDSL and every technology from fibre to IP and has built-in

broadband RAS function that can provide remote connectivity from a central DSLAM.

This is because we believe a service provider will have to consider these many

options if it has to offer DSL service," he says.


of different DSL technologies

Symmetric/Asymmetric Loop

Range (in 000 feet)


IDSL Symmetric 18 0.128 0.128
SDSL Symmetric 1000% 154% 154%

(2 pairs)
Symmetric 12 1.544 1.544

Asymmetric 1800% 150% 26%
ADSL Asymmetric 12 6 0.64
VDSL Asymmetric 3 26 3
Asymmetric 1 52 6
Symmetric 3 13 13
Symmetric 100% 2600% 2600%

Ruchir Godura of UTStarcom contends otherwise and believes IP is the future.

"Before IP DSLAMs came in, ADSL was only good for plain Internet access and

not high-speed applications like video streaming and TV over IP," he says.

His company, which leads the market for IP DSLAMs, has been shipping heavy

volumes of its AN- 2000 IP DSLAM platforms (it won a $130 million contract with

Yahoo Japan in 2001). IP- based DSLAMs (as opposed to ATM based DSLAMs) have

gained significant momentum in the DSL market, especially in Asia Pacific. The

spread of networks with Ethernet and IP technologies (that would allow for the

delivery of new IP services such as VPNs, VoIP, and VoD) has been the main

reason for this growth in deployment of IP-based DSLAMs (in place of ATM-based

DSLAMs). "IP/gigabit switching technology is the mechanism being adopted by

the big operators in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China due to enormous

cost-performance advantages it has over ATM. In Japan, our IP-DSLAM is being

used to deliver 4 Mbps of unconcentrated bandwidth to residential subscribers,

enabling them to receive two channels of broadcast-quality video over their ADSL

lines," Godura claims. UTStarcom recently signed contracts with China

Telecom to deploy approximately 80,000 lines of its IP-based ADSL broadband


IP or ATM, the fact is that DSL has been one of the bright spots in an

otherwise dull telecom business across the world. And it is very much likely to

remain the broadband technology of choice across the world at least in the

medium term. This is largely because among all broadband technologies DSL is the

one that requires the least amount of investment in existing infrastructure and

can be easily deployed.

What all this could mean to Indian SPs?

Even though no concrete initiative has been taken yet by any service

provider (including the incumbents) in India to offer DSL services to their

fixed line customers, a market surely exists. To begin with, fixed line

operators can look forward to upgrading their dial-up Internet subscribers to

DSL. This would, of course, happen only if subscribers get a DSL service at a

cost that is cheaper than what they pay while using a dial up.

While today there are DSL equipment available that can bring any kind of

voice, data or video service to home or business users, they would not be needed

in India at this point of time. This is because the prime concern of most Indian

users is basic connectivity–something that is cheap, fast and reliable.

Moreover, most Indians are not still ready to pay for content intensive services

like video-on-demand or TV-on-demand. May be, that would be the next step. Also,

from a service provider’s perspective, DSL could emerge as an important

competitive advantage especially for the incumbents as they can provision voice

and video services as well. Also, with competition from the wireless services

(imagine a scenario wherein fixed line subscribers begin shifting to wireless

alternatives like CDMA even for Internet access because that’s better than the

64 kpbs dial up), the fixed line providers would be under more pressure to do

value-adds to the plain telephone connections. Even though fixed operators like

BSNL and MTNL may be inhibited by low and widely dispersed PC penetration to bet

too much on DSL services, they could at least make a beginning. After all, if

broadband cannot be taken to Indian users with a technology like DSL (which

requires far less investment in the existing infrastructure both at the service

provider and user end than any other alternative) then it cannot reach them with

any other alternative either.

Ravi Shekhar Pandey