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Airtel Says 512Kbps Broadband Is Fast Enough For Video Calls And Streaming, But Data Doesn’t Agree

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: November 20, 2020, 10:08 IST

Airtel Says 512Kbps Broadband Is Fast Enough For Video Calls And Streaming, But Data Doesn’t Agree

Airtel does not want the definition of home broadband to change to 2Mbps from 512Kbps. The minimum broadband speed requirements of popular apps such as Zoom and Netflix do not support this theory. We are sure many wired broadband users would disagree with this observation too.

Just days after the Broadband India Forum (BIF) suggested that definition of wired broadband in India needs to be looked at, telecom service provider Bharti Airtel in its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) says that there is no need to change the definition of wired broadband in the country. At this time, an internet line that offers a minimum of 512kbps speeds is defined as broadband. BIF, in response to a consultation paper floated by TRAI, had suggested that the definition of broadband should change to 2Mbps speeds at the least, also keeping in mind the changing usage scenarios and applications which include video streaming, video meetings and work from home. TRAI started the consultation process for Consultation Paper on Roadmap to Promote Broadband Connectivity and Enhanced Broadband Speed in August, for consultations with all stakeholders.

Airtel argues that any change in the definition of a broadband line in India should be in sync with the global trends and says that most other countries define broadband when the internet line is rated at 256kbps speeds or more. Airtel goes on to say, and what this seems to indicate, is that 512kbps speeds are enough to allow users to access various services, and goes on to illustrate examples that include “website browsing, downloading files, audio content, video content, streaming services, video conferencing, etc.” Bharti Airtel offers the Airtel Xstream broadband services in India. The Airtel Xstream home broadband subscription plans start at Rs 499 per month with speeds of up to 40Mbps while the higher spec plans also offer higher data speeds—Rs 799 plan offers 100Mbps speed, the Rs 999 plan offers 200Mbps speed, the Rs 1,099 plan offers 300Mbps speed while the Rs 3,999 plan gets you 1Gbps speeds.

The current definition of broadband in India, as notified by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) says that, Broadband is a data connection that is able to support interactive services including Internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 512 kbps to an individual subscriber from the point of presence (POP) of the service provider intending to provide Broadband service.

Airtel’s argument says that instead of looking at speeds, the definition of broadband should change completely to increase the broadband penetration in the country, instead. At this time, there are 7.6 broadband lines per 100 households in India. “With the dismal status of fixed-line broadband infrastructure, the first and foremost focus should be to enhance broadband availability and affordability via various available media. With this perspective, the existing definition of broadband is working fine and should be continued with for the next few years till the broadband infrastructure becomes omnipresent,” says Airtel in the submission to TRAI.

“India should focus on broadband penetration to more households, offices, enterprises, and buildings rather than the broadband connection capacity. This would help in broadening digital connect for end customers. Throughput speed of >512 Kbps on broadband connection is sufficient to carry all data services, including video conferencing, e-commerce, digital financial services, and any other peer to peer services,” says Airtel.

Airtel says that, for instance, 512kbps speeds on the wired broadband line are fast enough for video conferencing. Let us take a look at what popular video conferencing app Zoom says about the internet speed requirements to be able to use its service. Zoom says you will need at least 600kbps upload and download speed for high quality video (this is not high definition, mind you) for a video meeting with another Zoom user. If, however you are part of a group video call, you will need at least 1Mbps download speed and 800kbps upload speeds for high quality video. And you will need at least 1.2Mbps speed for 720p HD video for individual video calls and at least 1.5Mbps speed for 720p video on group video calls.

Airtel also tells TRAI in its response to the consultations calls that the current 512kbps definition is good enough for video content and streaming services as well. Let us take a quick look at what Netflix says about the minimum broadband speed requirements for video streaming, to access its content. Netflix says a 500kbps connection is the minimum requirement to even be able to load the library of content. However, Netflix recommends at least 1.5Mbps broadband speeds for this to work properly. And for standard definition, you must have a broadband line that is rated at 3Mbps, you’ll need at least 5Mbps for high definition and at least 25Mbps for Ultra HD 4K content.

The company also shares an outlook for the next 2 years and says that it should become technologically possible to ensure guaranteed minimum speeds for wired broadband and at that point, the definition of wired broadband can be changed to speeds at 8Mbps or higher.

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