Internet in India: 25 years

Today(Aug 15) it is India’s Independence Day. And Internet in India is 25 years old now! Can anyone believe it? We tend to assume that it has been there all the time. It was launched by Government of India via organization called VSNL(Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited) 25 years back on the eve of Independence Day, Aug 15, 1995. And nobody noticed it that time. It was not a big news at all. Now I wonder why it was not! I was in the USA that time, and did not know about it until I came back in 1998. The first thing I did was to visit VSNL office in Pune(at a remote village called Dighi) and get VSNL connection. I got my email ID too. It was so intuitive- prashant@giaspn01.vsnl.net.in! (Warning: Don’t send email to this email address, as it is now defunct!). VSNL is, of course, now called Tata Communications Ltd.

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The service was called GIAS(Gateway Internet Access Service). I also was provided a manual providing information on how to dial-in(yes, I am sure many of us remember that screeching noise of dialing through that 33kbps modem!), how to setup modem, how to login. I cannot seem to locate in my library, but I found online version still available here. The service essentially log in you to their Unix box. Mail client in Unix called Pine was used to check emails. Text based browser Lynx was used for browsing. And don’t even bring the topic of speed. It was in bytes and kilobytes. It is fun to go down the memory lane now.

I wonder how many know that Internet services in a different form was available in India even before this was launched. Many software companies such as CMC, Wipro, TCS, Patni Computer Systems, Mastek, Infosys etc were already operating for quite some time in India. Many universities and other research and scientific institutions were using connections to Internet in some form. The ERNET(Education Research Network), the universities network over TCP/IP was operating as many might know. Let me tell you what I know and what I had used whatever I remember.

I was working for startup back then. Silicon Valley startup wanted to start Pune operations in 1994. Myself and couple of other engineers started. Back then, before era of BSNL and VSNL, there was DoT (Department of Telecommunication) who would provide telephone connections. DoT also had a data service called INET over landline modem for businesses. This was X.25 service(packet switched data network) connecting to MCI then. I still remembering making trips to DoT office in Pune in camp area meeting staff there to troubleshoot connectivity problems.

Our requirement was to transfer code, binaries we were working on that time regularly to out teams in Silicon Valley. We used INET for that. We would dial-in into DoT number to get access to X.25 Packet Assembler-Disassembler (PAD) which would actually transfer files. The speed obviously quite low, and many times we would be in office all night to send our release to team on the other side. The connections also would drop many times. It was required to monitor, and send the remaining files in parts. The resultant files would be assembled back using uuencode/uudecode tools. For emails, we would use MCIMail service. I also remember connecting to Compuserve too that time, was one of the pioneering Internet Service Provider(ISP) in the USA. It was quite popular back then, with many BBS(Board Bulletin Service) kind features.

Wow! Those were days, early days of some of us experiencing the Internet revolution in front of eyes, which has occupied every part of life these days. It is amazing to see where we are in 2020, twenty five years later, and also where we are going! Today, India dedicated high speed optical fiber link to mainland India for islands Andman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep which takes Internet even further in India.

Anyways, here is a first part of blog series, I had started to talk about computers then and now. You may find it relevant and interesting.