It has been just over six months since Cyclone Vardah hit Chennai. Lakhs of trees and power posts went down, and along with it, the city’s broadband network.
Fiber broadband networks were the worst hit and ACT Fibernet, one of the largest fiber broadband providers in the city, was impacted the most, with over 90 per cent network down. Subscribers suddenly found that their high-speed broadband was down for days — in some instances, even weeks. This resulted in a backlash in social media.
The gravity of the situation made the entire top brass of ACT Fibernet, including the CEO Bala Malladi, fly down and camp in the city for several weeks. The company decided to lay brand new cables for the entire network in the city — junking the old ones. To reduce disruptions due to other utilities damaging ACT’s cables, the company has installed over 1,000 of its own poles.
Talking to BusinessLine recently, Malladi said after months of hard work and with the entire network up and running ACT was now ready to look ahead.
It is one thing to have its own poles, but how is ACT preparing for another cylcone, with almost the entire network running overhead on trees and poles?
ACT has already shifted gear towards underground cabling and was awaiting approvals, Malladi said. It had planned to roll out a massive underground network — of over 1,500 km — at a cost of over ₹300 crore, he said.
Moreover, ACT had planned a capital expenditure of around ₹500 crore for back-up plans to ensure 100 per cent redundancies (back-ups). It had also multiple redundancies even for upstream international bandwidth providers. “We have two service providers Airtel and Tata to deliver the upstream international bandwidth, each acting as a redundancy for the other,” he said. Even the data centres now have a backup. “We have ensured our Bangalore and Chennai operations are interlinked and distributed so that one acts as a back up for other.”
Malladi said ACT had taken one more step — it had fortified its network by piggybacking on another network of a service provider that already had underground cabling.
ACT has the reputation for disrupting the broadband business. It was the first company to provide high-speed broadband at low rates. It is still one of the few companies that provide the same speeds for downloads and uploads and with uploads not counted in FUP.
In fact, ACT continued to have the most additions in wired broadband internet subscribers in the 2017 calendar year till April 30 according to data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). ACT added 70,000 subscribers, of which 20,000 were added in April 2017 followed by Bharti Airtel Limited (Airtel) and You Broadband, which added 10,000 subscribers each during the same period.
Though other telecom majors have not been able to match ACT in these areas, there are other pure fiber broadband players and smaller companies that are trying to break in with cheaper plans and larger upload limits. Isn’t it a matter of concern?
ACT was aware of what the competition was up to, Malladi said, and added that none of the smaller players could match ACT in terms of quality of service. In the past few months, ACT Fibernet had the highest uptime, consistently. ACT constantly monitored the network and any issue was detected automatically and message sent out to the field teams almost instantly. ACT had increased call centre timings based on the feedback from customers.
ACT had also worked on resolving customer complaints within four to six hours and had been able to deliver it since the last few months. The mobile app was also being constantly upgraded. The customer would be able to manage his account - like upgrading plans, buying FlexyBytes (extra data) or make complaints and monitor their status — entirely from the app, Malladi said.
The frequent product and Plan upgrades — that included increased speeds and data limits — was something ACT had been doing for years, he said. And ACT ensured that all upgrades were rolled out existing customers first, Malladi said.