Want to watch your favourite film right now? Or play the latest games? Want to surf the Net even as you talk on the same phone line?
The advent of broadband has made all this and more possible.
The technology is fast becoming a way of life across the world. Asia-Pacific fixed line broadband connections grew by 50 per cent during 2004, according to provisional estimates from Gartner. And the fastest growing Asian market was Thailand, where subscriptions rose more than 1,000 per cent during the year.
China's growth -- the current average broadband rate there is $9 (Rs 400) per subscriber per month -- too has been explosive. The growth estimate for India: 20 million broadband subscribers by 2010.
Broadband, to put it simply, is a continuous data connection that is able to support various interactive services and has the capability of a minimum download speed of 256 kilobytes per second or kbps.
Its launch affords access to a wider range of services -- telephony, Internet, video on demand -- all at the same time, from the same line.
Internet connections available today offer far lower speeds of 64kbps or less -- actually much less in the case of a dial-up connection, which makes surfing and downloading a time-consuming affair.
Broadband will result in far greater speeds so that you can download or upload (read mail, chat, surf,) in doublequick time.
While voice applications (telephony) require very little bandwidth -- about 16 kbps, other applications such as data transmission for educational purposes, gaming and video need far greater bandwidth.
With more services, the speeds will require to be upgraded. So much so, today's broadband could very well be tomorrow's narrowband. But there's a lot of bandwidth available already. For perspective: Yahoo broadband comes at speeds of 40,000kbps.
Worldwide, broadband connections are made typically through the copper wire i.e., the telephone connection or the cable TV wire.
There are newer technologies such as Metro Ethernet or wireless technologies. In India, Tata Indicom/VSNL is using both Metro Ethernet and copper, while MTNL and BSNL are using copper.
In Mumbai, Tata Indicom/VSNL has kicked off with a higher speed of 512 kbps. MTNL's TriBand is currently offering speeds of 256 kbps but Ajay Jain, general manger, marketing, MTNL, says the company hopes to upgrade its services soon.
In New Delhi, Bharti offers packages in a range between 256 kbps for retail users and higher bandwidths of 512kbps for commercial users.
Tata Indicom/SML offers 512 kbps at an entry price of Rs 400 per month for 200 megabytes (mega = million) per second or 20 hours.
MTNL, on the other hand, has said it will charge Rs 2400 per month for a 512 kbps connection and provide a free download of 2.5 gigabytes (one GB is equal to 1000 MB).
This combination would perhaps be more suitable for commercial use since broadband is an excellent means of communication for small enterprises.
Enterprises would definitely need higher bandwidths -- for instance, video conferencing requires speeds of 384 kbps and more.
Those operators using copper wires are using the ADSL2+ technology, which allows users to upgrade to speeds of 8 mbps. ADSL stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line, a method for moving data over regular phone lines. An ADSL circuit is much faster than a regular phone connection, and uses the existing copper wire connectivity.
'The equipment at home will comprise a small modem (or a set-top box if you are going to hook up the television too) and an even smaller "splitter" through which different wires are plugged into your personal computer, television (for video viewing) and telephone.
But if your operator is using Ethernet and not copper, a splitter is not needed. What about mobility? What do you do if you want to access your broadband account when you are travelling?
If you opt for a Tata Indicom package, you can access the same account in as many as 300 cities, albeit in the dial-up mode. So, if you are in Bangalore, for instance, all you need to do is dial 172226 (the VSNL dial-up number).
As Prateek Pashine, head, broadband marketing, explains, it is a roaming facility within the country. Pashine adds that Tata Indicom offers a global roaming facility in 130 cities across the world, again through a dial-up facility. So, you can access your broadband account if you are travelling overseas.
Also, if you are at a friend's place in, say New Delhi, where there is a Tata Indicom broadband connection, you can access your account through that same connection and it will be your account that gets billed, not your friend's.
Moreover, you can have multiple e-mail accounts (priya @vsnl.com and firstname.lastname@example.org ) and pay for them through the same pre-paid account.
The tariff plans being offered can be a time-based package i.e., you pay for the number of hours that you use the Net for, a volume-based plan or plain unlimited.
Hourly packages are best for people who use the Internet sparingly and mainly to download their mail.
The "unlimited" schemes are expensive but if you like to surf frequently and download music or other stuff, this is just what you need. If you are a compulsive chatter, then opt for a volume-based package since during chat, very little data is downloaded.If you're into music and plan to download a lot of it, then pick up an hourly package, since the consumption of bytes will be high -- a typical MP3 music file, for a five to six-minute song, takes up about 4-5 megabytes of download.