The State of “Broadband” in Sri Lanka – Take 1

Lirneasia’s come out with preliminary test results of the Quality of Service of three of the most widely used broadband packages in Sri Lanka, SLT Office (2 Mbps / 512 kbps), SLT Home (512 kbps / 128 kbps) and Dialog (2 Mbps / 512 kbps). (With Dialog, I’m not sure what exactly they tested (Dynamic or Static IP package) and whether this makes a difference.)

I’ve touched base with Lirneasia off and on broadband speeds in Sri Lanka as well as in other countries and it’s good to finally see a rigorous, impartial and insightful study in this vexed and vexing issue.

The preliminary results of the survey are available here. For me the greatest eye-opener was the lack of any discernible difference between the SLT Home and Business packages. Actually, it’s what I suspected for a long time after upgrading from the Home to the Business package around a year ago at a significant difference in cost monthly for no appreciable improvement in the quality of data transfers I got on average.

The notice of the presentation that Lirneasia sent around had two representatives from SLT and Dialog who were supposed to be on the panel as respondents, but the post on the event does not record their participation or their reactions and responses.

I have little experience with Dialog’s broadband solutions save for marketing campaigns really did jump the gun on promising connectivity that their implementation of Wimax simply could not match. Incidentally however, the best downloads I’ve got in Sri Lanka have been at Kandalama Hotel which I believe is on some sort of Dialog wireless connection (wimax or HSPA) late last year. I’ve never even come close to those speeds using ADSL or HSPA at any time of day on any day.

It will be interesting to see future iterations of this survey that look into HSDPA / HSPA solutions from SLT / Mobitel and Dialog. Having got a HSPA 3.5G connection from Mobitel a while ago, I’m happy to report that I am far more happy with the QoS on it than with my Business ADSL connection (just tested the download rate and it’s 93.3kbps at 5.30pm on a Wednesday. Would have compared to SLT ADSL, but see below). I’ve not run any robust tests, but from using it quite a bit when I’m travelling and also at peak time, the speeds I get for uploads and downloads are again certainly not near to what’s advertised or what the Mobitel Sales Rep told me they would be, but are a damn sight better than ADSL.

Office got a Dialog HSDPA connection (it’s the same Huawei USB modem as mine) for our mobile citizen journlism work with Vikalpa in particular, yet they seem far less happy with it than I am with mine from Mobitel.

But at the end of the day, wireless connectivity depends on the same backend network infrastructure as wired / ADSL connections, which raises the question as to just why the Mobitel HSPA QoS is markedly better than SLT ADSL connectivity. Perhaps it is an issue of saturation?

It may be just coincidence, but I’ve also noticed far more ADSL outages in the past two weeks. My ADSL connection in Nugegoda has got very unreliable and at the time of writing this, ADSL services are out for Colombo 7, Wellawatte and some other areas in Colombo. Office tells me that this now happens quite regularly. Either SLT is upgrading something somewhere or their QoS is just getting worse. Hope it is the former.

The picture I get from all this is that things are not as bad as I assumed they would be. However, that’s small comfort for those of us who have been paying significant more for an SLT ADSL package for a QoS that’s overall no better than or equal to a Home package.  For my work, what’s revealing from these preliminary results is that there is really no option at present than to stick with my ADSL connection (I may downgrade back to the Home package) and my HSPA connection, for which I pay a small fortune at the end of the month. Is it too much to really expect telcos to provide what they promise? And when the final results are published, I wonder whether consumers can take legal action against telcos for not providing what they promise and actually state in their marketing campaigns?

A final thanks to Chanuka from Lirneasia who has kindly included my name in his presentation. Lirneasia’s work (in particular their BOP research, on which I have still to write on in this blog) has helped me more than any other organisation to justify my on-going work with citizen journalism and new media as a means through which one can strengthen democratic governance, peace and fundamental rights. Years ago I began work on ICT4Peace with the hunch that mobile devices / phones would change the way in which citizens communicate with governance and governance mechanisms in the swabhasha, and that wireless internet access / cloud computing and diminishing costs of access would make them producers of content instead of passive recipients and consumers of content dished out to them by e-government initiatives with a downstream emphasis. It’s heartening to see research from Lirneasia supporting the validity of these early assumptions and my continuing work in ICT and peacebuilding.

Now if I only could just bloody get a decent connection to download that gargantuan Vista Service Pack…

3 thoughts on “The State of “Broadband” in Sri Lanka – Take 1

  1. Just got a Dialog 2Mbps connection(Dynamic). I think its not much of an improvement from the SLT Home package i have at home. The dialog pack was for my office. To this i must add the serivce and technical capability of the installation team was horrible. I felt like I was responsible for their inability to get my connection up and running within a short period of time. Better trained staff is what is required. If not for the new router I needed to buy since “Dialog doesn’t work with standard routers”(this could be my technical ignorance yet i believe i should’ve been informed since I specified that i will be using router) i would shift to SLT. At least i would know what i’m getting then..

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