Early Career Days

I look back at the early days of my career when my journey started.

I did my Bachelors in Electronics and Communication in 2000 and had keen interest in Computer Networks and the Internet. After graduating, I soon realized the lack of software skills for the industry. Every company I applied for, needed some sort of programming language. I did take one class in C Programming but had no thorough practical knowledge in it.

Continuing my hunt for a career break and analyzing my preparedness for the industry, I went for the CCNA certification for networking from Cisco Systems. It played out well as I immediately landed into a trainee job in an ISP (quite amusingly branded NOW or Network of the World).

I liked the opportunity to play with network switches, Unix servers and understand how global network traffic moves and the internet works. I even did thorough cable patching and routing as we frequently had to connect wiring coming via MDF(Multi Distribution Frame) to our Switches and Remote Access Servers. The optical fiber cables landed in the Digital Distribution Frame(DDF) where we peered with telcos and internally it got routed over CAT5 ethernet cables upto our MDF and finally to the network devices.

The RAS boxes had hookups for dial up and ISDN lines coming in from the telcos around New Delhi and that's how users got authenticated and connected to our data services. We also had leased lines for dedicated internet access with speeds from 64kbps all the way up to 2Mbps.

The international feed was via satellite earth stations mounted on roof tops in the 4 metros viz. New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. We had also leased some undersea fiber from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd(VSNL) in Mumbai as they had the sole landing rights for all international peering traffic.

We also had to configure the backbone network to advertise routes through BGP(Border Gateway Protocol), the dominant method of internet peering with our partner ISPs and upstream providers. Gradually, we signed up with global carriers like Level3, Hutchison for global peering.

Besides dial up and leased lines, we also started offering Wireless MAC bridges. This was a cheaper option though less reliable to hook up customers via radio channels from a high elevation tower. There was frequent QoS issues as there used to be channel interference and Line of Sight issues. Lot of customers dropped radio and instead subscribed for leased lines for more reliability.

With the onset of 2002, there was a rapid change in priorities as the business decided to go voice besides data. I can proudly say, we were the first private Voice over IP service provider in India. The brain of the technology was from VocalTec, an Israeli firm who came over for the installation and service delivery. There was excitement for we had lot of learning opportunities as well as hands on work to experience something new.

Office was a chaos. Everyone was running to set things up. The billing applications, the network infrastructure, the telco commissioning, the peering with international carriers and network augmentation. Suddenly people started talking in billions as we saw a catastrophic jump in revenue.

We learnt new things about how telcos work. Now we were running signalling links with telcos to handle voice traffic for billing/network concerns. There was more of bureaucracy than setup which was hindering our growth. The telcos had to be greased regularly to let our pipes run and even the testing contacts had to be well fed and greased to approve our services.

There was sufficient literature to endorse VoIP as a viable technology for voice, but telcos kept blocking our license citing its poor QoS and sub-standard call quality. After few more weeks and more money spent, we were finally able to launch services.

Then came the part of hybrid tie-ups. There were a plethora of mobile carriers and landline telcos and we had to mix and match with various PoPs (Points of Presence) to make the signalling work for routing calls all across the nation. Many a times we came into issues like faxes not working over IP, poor voice quality, delays but these were mostly well known issues. Faxes are still unreliable over the internet.

Overall it was an exciting and busy time for me as I hardly realized how two years went by. Then came the threat of competition. Our organizational change to this technology was disruptive but deep pockets always win. Reliance Infocomm announced roll-out of their services and did a clean sweep of the Indian telco paradigm. They poached a lot of engineers and trained staff from the telcos lavishing them with huge salaries and bonuses. We almost had an existential threat since we were just in the nascent stages with two years of service experience.

Game changed hands and soon we lost most of the revenue and the steam to operate as a carrier. 2004 were the last days of our organization and most of my colleagues moved over in the telecom sector while I went for my higher education to US.