Ever since we moved to a new place it has been an uphill task to find a decent broadband service provider. This area isn’t wired yet, and it feels like the aliens will land on this planet before BSNL or Airtel plan to dig up and plant any optical fibre cables around this place. My only option is wireless connectivity. That’s a nightmare in itself.
I started with a local WiFi based ISP called Wi5. The small Chennai based company offers wireless connections over WiMax networks. The company literally dropped dead after a few months. There was no official word, no one even came back to collect the outdoor CPE, probably fearing getting beaten up by customers. I had to switch back to the ugly Tata Photon+ USB based dongle for the time being.
Last month I switched to Airtel 4G LTE after realizing they’ve started services around my area. On filling an online form two sales guys arrived the next day with an indoor CPE for a demo. Those guys had no clue in the technical sense and were only programmed to demo YouTube videos and show how you could stream 1080p videos without any lag. Like always, I ended up giving lectures in basic networking to those guys.
After a few hiccups we were able to locate a decent signal around the house. Speed tests on the terrace went up to around 40-50mbps initially and then around 20-30mbps in the room. Pretty sweet, like candies for a poor guy like me. I signed up for the service and took up a plan worth Rs. 2500 with 40GB cap, paid upfront Rs. 4,000 for the wireless router. Data caps are ridiculous at this speeds, but it’s not like I have any options.
Getting a new Airtel 4G LTE connection takes about 3-4 days at least. You’ll have to fill up a form, provide residential and identity proof even if you are an existing Airtel mobile user. Physical verification is necessary to ensure they can stick any kind of bill to you – the service is only post-paid. On the 4th day you’ll get your own 4G LTE indoor CPE along with the SIM card. The connection is activated in a couple of hours after you get the hardware.
Setting up is pretty easy, I preferred to do it myself. Airtel provides customers with a co-branded ZTE router. I’m kind of impressed with it since it offers pretty much everything I need. The firmware on the router has been customized, obviously, and you might have to look around for basic settings to begin with. The firmware isn’t locked to Airtel, you can use other 3G cards and services as well. The router can also be used as a regular cable modem too.
Airtel’s 4G LTE services are pretty smooth, and since there are hardly any users as of now you’ll get decent speeds most of the time. Lowest I’ve gone so far is around 8mbps during times when the signal went slightly weaker. Airtel has deployed 4G services on 2300 Mhz frequency on TDD instead of FDD like in the US and parts of Europe. Of course Airtel wanted to jump the queue and become the first 4G LTE provider in India.
Streaming videos, video calls over Skype and Facetime, downloading content – everything has been super smooth so far. It’s really hard to believe they’ve actually done a pretty good job with setting up the network. Now if only they could go a little easy on those data caps.
I did have a minor issue where I discovered a certain cell to be misbehaving recently. I called up technical support who promised someone will come over to fix the issue. Pretty confident that everything was green at my end, I spoke to the local technical support person and explained the issue with the cell id number. In a few hours my issue was resolved and it was all back to the broadband ga-ga land.
Will I recommend Airtel 4G LTE? Yes, if your area isn’t wired or if you are unhappy with your current broadband connection. For me it has been a lifesaver until someone starts digging up to lay cable around my area.