Internet in India

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The history of the internet in India began with the launch of the Educational Research Network (ERNET) in 1986. The first publicly available internet service in India was launched by state-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) on 14 August 1995.

As of May 2014, the Internet was delivered to India mainly by 9 different undersea fibres, including SEA-ME-WE 3, Bay of Bengal Gateway and Europe India Gateway, arriving at 5 different landing points.[1]


The history of the internet in India began with the launch of the Educational Research Network (ERNET) in 1986. The network was only made available to educational and research communities.[2] ERNET was initiated by the Department of Electronics (DoE), with funding support from the Government of India and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), involving eight premier institutions as participating agencies—NCST Bombay, Indian Institute of Science, five Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Madras, and the DoE in New Delhi. ERNET began as a multi protocol network with both the TCP/IP and the OSI-IP protocol stacks running over the leased-line portion of the backbone. Since 1995, however, almost all traffic is carried over TCP/IP.[3] The first leased line of 9.6 kbit/s was installed in January 1991 between Delhi and Mumbai. ERNET was allotted Class B IP address by InterNIC in 1990. Subsequently, Class C addresses were allotted to ERNET by APNIC. All IITs, IISc Bangalore, DOE Delhi and NCST Mumbai were connected by 9.6 kbit/s leased line by 1992. In the same year, 64 kbit/s Internet gateway link was commissioned from NCST Mumbai to UUNet in Virginia, United States.

NICNet was established in 1988 for communications between government institutions. The network was operated by the National Informatics Centre.[2]

The first publicly available internet service in India was launched by state-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) on 14 August 1995.[4][5] At the time, VSNL had a monopoly over international communications in the country and private enterprise was not permitted in the sector. The internet service, known as the Gateway Internet Access Service (GIAS), provided a speed of 9.6 kbit/s speed and was priced at $160 for 250 hours for individuals, $500 for institutional dial-up SLIP/PPP accounts, and higher for leased line services. GIAS was available immediately from Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras. It was made available in Pune and Bangalore by the end of 1995, while users from other locations could connect through the Department of Telecommunications' I-NET, an X.25 network accessed through leased lines or at a concessional dial-up rate from almost anywhere. The connection between VSNL and MCI Inc. in the United States was made with multiple 64kbit/s links.[6]

The service was plagued by several hardware and network issues. B.K. Syngal, then chairman and managing director of VSNL, publicly apologized and took responsibility for the issues. Syngal stated that the company had not conducted any survey of the potential demand for the service. The modems used by VSNL were of poor quality, and often would make a beeping sound every three minutes and subsequently disconnect. The connections also faced junction issues when users attempted to connect between internet exchanges. VSNL had designed each line to handle 30 customers at a time, which would quickly swell to full capacity. VSNL invested 2-2.5 crore on the launch. Recalling the launch in 2015, Syngal described the amount as "pathetic".[4]

Despite the issues, VSNL's internet service garnered 10,000 subscribers within the first 6 months of the launch. The company invested 10-15 crore to re-design the service. The internet service got a boost in popularity after a successful demo at the NASSCOM meeting at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai in 1996. VSNL's booth demonstrating the capabilities of the internet received a large number of visitors.[4] However, for the next 10 years the Internet experience in the country remained less attractive with narrow-band connections having speeds less than 56 kbit/s (dial-up).[7] To meet the growing demand for internet access, VSNL, in cooperation with the DoT, added new points of presence (POP) on the Internet. In 1997, new POPs opened in Kanpur, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Patna and Goa. By 1998, the network comprised around 40 POPs.[8]

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) access was introduced in 1997.[8]

In 2004, the government formulated its broadband policy which defined broadband as "an always-on Internet connection with download speed of 256 kbit/s or above."[7] From 2005 onward, the growth of the broadband sector in the country accelerated, but remained below the growth estimates of the government and related agencies due to resource issues in last-mile access which were predominantly wired-line technologies. This bottleneck was removed in 2010 when the government auctioned 3G spectrum followed by an equally high-profile auction of 4G spectrum that set the scene for a competitive and invigorated wireless broadband market. Today, internet access in India is provided by both public and private companies using a variety of technologies and media including dial-up (PSTN), xDSL, coaxial cable, Ethernet, FTTH, ISDN, HSDPA (3G), WiFi, WiMAX, etc. at a wide range of speeds and costs.[9]

Wireless internet[edit]

2G internet is the most prevalent in India. Wireless ISPs in India use both CDMA and Edge technologies for 2G.

The following frequencies are used to provide wireless internet services:[10]

  • 2G : GSM 900 MHz, GSM 1800 MHz
  • 3G : UMTS 2100 MHz
  • 4G : TD-LTE 2300 MHz, FD-LTE 1800 MHz, FDD-LTE 850 MHz
  • CDMA : 800 MHz (for 1x voice and data & EVDO Rev A, Rev B, Rev B Phase II data)

Internet speed[edit]

According to the Akamai Q3 2016 State of the Internet Report, the average internet connection speed in India is 4.1 Mbit/s and the average peak connection speed is 27.0 Mbit/s. Globally, India was ranked 105th out 148 countries/regions by average internet connection speed and 107th by average peak connection speed. Almost one-third of internet users in India have an average internet connection speed of above 4 Mbit/s, 6.6% have a speed of over 10 Mbit/s, and 2.6% enjoy speeds over 15 Mbit/s. The average internet connection speed on mobile networks in India was 3.5 Mbit/s.[11][12]

The first commercially launched internet service in India offered dial-up speeds of up to 9.6 kbit/s in 1995. With the advent of better modems, the network speed was increased to 14.4. kbit/s, followed by 28.8 and 33.4 kbit/s accesses by 1998. Dial-up was later upgraded to provide speeds up to 56 kbit/s on analog lines.[8] In 2004, the government formulated its broadband policy which defined broadband as "an always-on Internet connection with download speed of 256 kbit/s or above."[7] The definition was amended in July 2013 defining broadband as a "data connection that supports interactive services, including internet access, capable of a minimum download speed of 512 kbps to an individual subscriber."[13][14] The minimum download speed was officially raised from 256 kbit/s to 512 kbit/s in August 2014.[15]

On 31 October 2016, TRAI issued a directive to all fixed broadband ISPs ordering them to ensure that the minimum download speed of a connection would not drop below 512 kbps even after a subscriber had used up their assigned data limits. TRAI also ordered all ISPs to notify their subscribers through SMS or email when the subscriber had consumed 50%, 90% and 100% of their assigned data limit. All TSPs are also required to maintain a portal or website where subscribers can view their usage pattern at any time.[16]

In 2016, the Government proposed raising the minimum speed of broadband to 2 Mbit/s.[17]

Internet user base[edit]

The following table provides an overview of key internet subscriber statistics in India as on 30 September 2016.[18]

Statistic Figures
Total subscribers 367.48 million
Narrowband subscribers 175.18 million
Broadband subscribers 192.30 million
Wired subscribers 21.26 million
Wireless subscribers 346.22 million
Urban subscribers 247.69 million
Rural subscribers 119.79 million
Overall net penetration 28.77 %
Urban net penetration 61.98 %
Rural net penetration 13.65 %

In 2009, about 37 per cent of the users access the Internet from cyber cafes, 30 per cent from an office, and 23 per cent from home. However, the number of mobile Internet users increased rapidly from 2009 on and there were about 274 million mobile users at the end of September 2010, with a majority using 2G mobile networks.[7] Mobile Internet subscriptions as reported by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in March 2011 increased to 381 million.

Access to the Internet can be divided into dial-up and broadband access. Around the start of the 21st century, most residential access was by dial-up, while access from businesses was usually by higher speed connections. In subsequent years dial-up declined in favor of broadband access. Both types of access generally use a modem, which converts digital data to analog for transmission over a particular analog network (ex. the telephone or cable networks).[19]

Dial-up access is a connection to the Internet through a phone line, creating a semi-permanent link to the Internet.[19] Operating on a single channel, it monopolizes the phone line and is the slowest method of accessing the Internet. Dial-up is often the only form of Internet access available in rural areas because it requires no infrastructure other than the already existing telephone network. Dial-up connections typically do not exceed a speed of 56 kbit/s, because they are primarily made via a 56k modem.[19]

Broadband access includes a wide range of speeds and technologies, all of which provide much faster access to the Internet than dial-up. The term "broadband" once had a technical meaning, but today it is more often a marketing buzzword that simply means "faster". Broadband connections are continuous or "always on" connections, without the need to dial and hangup, and do not monopolize phone lines.[19] Common types of broadband access include DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines), Cable Internet access, Satellite Internet access, mobile broadband via cell phones and other mobile devices among many others.[20]

Internet service providers[edit]

There were 144 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering broadband and narrowband services in India as on 30 September 2016.[18]

As on 31 August 2016, the five largest wired broadband providers in India are BSNL (9.84 million), Airtel (1.91 million), Atria Convergence Technologies (1.09 million), MTNL (1.07 million), and You Broadband (0.57 million). The five largest wireless broadband providers are Airtel (43.44 million), Vodafone (35.00 million), Idea Cellular (29.58 million), Reliance Communications (15.13 million) and BSNL (11.20 million).[21]

The telecom circles of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra & Goa, Delhi, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh have the most broadband subscribers.[18]

The total International Internet bandwidth owned by Indian ISPs was 2241 Gbps as on 30 September 2016.[18] International Bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transmission from a single country to the rest of the world.[22]

Net neutrality[edit]

As of 2015, India had no laws governing net neutrality and there have been violations of net neutrality principles by some service providers. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, they are not enforced. The Information Technology Act, 2000 does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests.[23]

In March 2015, the TRAI released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It was condemned by various politicians and internet users.[24][25][26] By 18 April 2015, over 800,000 emails had been sent to TRAI demanding net neutrality.[26][27][28]


Internet censorship in India is selectively practiced by both federal and state governments. DNS filtering and educating service users in better usage is an active strategy and government policy to regulate and block access to Internet content on a large scale. Measures to remove content at the request of content creators through court orders have become more common in recent years.


One of the major issues facing the Internet segment in India is the lower average bandwidth of broadband connections compared to that of developed countries. According to 2007 statistics, the average download speed in India hovered at about 40 KB per second (256 kbit/s), the minimum speed set by TRAI, whereas the international average was 5.6 Mbit/s during the same period. In order to attend this infrastructure issue the government declared 2007 as "the year of broadband".[29][30] To compete with international standards of defining broadband speed the Indian Government has taken the aggressive step of proposing a $13 billion national broadband network to connect all cities, towns and villages with a population of more than 500 in two phases targeted for completion by 2012 and 2013. The network was supposed to provide speeds up to 10 Mbit/s in 63 metropolitan areas and 4 Mbit/s in an additional 352 cities. Also, the Internet penetration rate in India is one of the lowest in the world and only accounts for 8.4% of the population compared to the rate in OECD counties, where the average is over 50%.[31][32][33] Another issue is the digital divide where growth is biased in favour of urban areas; according to 2010 statistics, more than 75 per cent of the broadband connections in the country are in the top 30 cities.[7] Regulators have tried to boost the growth of broadband in rural areas by promoting higher investment in rural infrastructure and establishing subsidised tariffs for rural subscribers under the Universal service obligation scheme of the Indian government.

Ecommerce industry[edit]


No. of Indian consumers who purchased something online in 2014: 40 Million

No. of Indian consumers who are expected to purchase something online in 2015: 65 Million

Indian ecommerce Industry in 2014: $22 Billion

Indian ecommerce Industry in 2018: $86 Billion

Data centres[edit]

  • BSNL Internet Data Centers, in collaboration with Dimension Data[34]
  • Trimax IT Infrastructure & Services Limited - Tier III data centers in Mumbai and Bengaluru [35]
  • Airlive Broadband
  • Sify Technologies Limited
  • CtrlS Datacenters Ltd
  • Tata Communications Limited
  • Netmagic Solutions
  • Reliance Datacenter
  • Web Werks IDC
  • Net4 Datacenter
  • RackBank Datacenter
  • GPX Global Systems Inc.
  • CTRLS Data Center
  • MegaHostZone
  • Digital Ocean

Internet Exchanges[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "This is From Where and How Internet in India Comes From?", Source Digit, 12 May 2014. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b "20 years of Internet in India: On August 15, 1995 public Internet access was launched in India". News18. 15 August 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Ghosh, Shauvik (2015-06-29). "The birth of the Internet in India". Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  5. ^ Livemint (2015-06-30). "A brief history of the Internet". Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e "Broadband status in India" (PDF). TRAI. p. 21. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c nicpib4. "Focus". Retrieved 2016-09-30. 
  9. ^ "India Set to Beat US as Second-Largest Internet Market". NDTV Gadgets. 
  10. ^ "Mobile networks - GSM and 3G coverage". 
  11. ^ "Q3 2016 State of the Internet Report" (PDF). Akamai. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  12. ^ "State of the Internet Connectivity Visualization". Akamai. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 
  13. ^ "TRAI directs operators to ensure minimum 512Kbps speed for broadband subscribers, asks operators to SMS customers about usage limits: Report". Telecom Talk. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  14. ^ "Fixed broadband consumers to get minimum 512 kbps speed". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2016-11-01. 
  15. ^ "Minimum broadband speed set to jump 4 times | Gadgets Now". Gadget Now. Retrieved 2016-11-01. 
  16. ^ PTI (2016-10-31). "Inform broadband users of data usage limit, speed, Trai tells telcos". Mint. Retrieved 2016-11-01. 
  17. ^ "Minimum broadband speed set to jump 4 times". Gadget Now. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 
  18. ^ a b c d "The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators" (PDF). TRAI. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  19. ^ a b c d "Broadband Internet", Chris Woodford, Explain that Stuff, August 20, 2008. Retrieved on January 19, 2009.
  20. ^ "The FCC has set a new, faster definition for broadband", Brian Fung, The Washington Post, January 29, 2015. Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "International Bandwidth Bandwidt" (PDF). ITU. Retrieved 3 December 2016. 
  23. ^ "Net Neutrality: Here is everything you need to know about it". The Indian Express. 10 February 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  24. ^ Singh, Saurabh (8 April 2015). "Politicos slam TRAI's stance on net neutrality". India Today. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  25. ^ Gandhi, Rajat (8 April 2015). "Net neutrality: Why Internet is in danger is of being shackled". The Economic Times. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  26. ^ a b "Indians rally for Internet freedom, send over 1 lakh emails to TRAI for net neutrality". IBNLive. 13 April 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  27. ^ Roy, Prasanto (18 April 2015). "India's fight for net neutrality". India: BBC. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  28. ^ "Over 3 lakh emails sent to Trai in support of Net Neutrality, so far". FirstPort. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  29. ^ "Broadband speeds around the world". BBC News. 2 December 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  30. ^ "India Seeks Access to the Broadband Highway". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  31. ^ "Internet Usage in Asia". International Telecommunications Unit: Asian Internet Users. ITU. Retrieved 10 January 2011. 
  32. ^ "OECD Broadband Portal". 
  33. ^ "India ranks 115th in net connection speed" (doc). Retrieved 1 April 2009. 
  34. ^ BSNL Internet Data Center, website, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and Dimension Data, retrieved 11 September 2013.
  35. ^

External links[edit]