Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Last Mile Problem

One of the things you hear most often about Indian infrastructure, especially telecom, is the “last mile problem”. While the telecom backbones within the country are fairly robust, actually getting physical connection wires into a customer’s premises is problematic and failure-prone.

I’ve had a good opportunity to observe the last mile problem play out fully over the last few months with the Internet and phone connection at my office.

The connection was first set up in June. Since the building is old, it didn’t have a connection to the provider (Airtel)’s distribution network, so the first installation technician they sent did whatever it took to get the connection going. This meant stringing a wire from the nearest telephone pole, in the air across the street, and then taping it all around the building to the nearest window from my office, and then hooking up the cable modem inside the office to that.

I felt this state of affairs was unstable and could be brought down by rain, or something even more dangerous like a gentle breeze. After repeated calls to the customer service number, they sent out another technician, who now encased the wiring around the building in a PVC pipe to protect it better. We were still getting our Internet connection through a wire thrust through our window.

Yet more phone calls yielded one more technician, who went a bit further. He was now able to connect their wires to the building’s internal phone wiring (it did have wiring, thankfully), so that we could now plug in our cable modem into the phone outlet in the wall.

All this time the wire from the telephone pole suspended 20 feet in the air was still our Internet lifeline. The ISP was reluctant to change this since it meant digging an underground cable into the building for them. After much follow-up, they finally agreed to do this. A (small) army of labourers arrived one day and installed a “distribution box”, or DB, on the building premises. The location of this box caused some controversy among the building residents due to NIMBY-related concerns, but some negotiation took care of this. The DB was then connected through an underground pipe to the nearest point – luckily, just outside the building – that had a connection to the ISP’s backbone in Chennai, and the PVC piped-wiring attached to the building (which was itself finally connected into the building’s internal wiring) was plugged in on the other side.

We now have:
1. A cable modem in our office, connected into a wall socket, that provides us with beautiful data bits;
2. A PVC-encased copper wire circling the building;
3. Not an exposed or hanging wire in sight.

Could life get any better?

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