There has been a lot of buzz about the coming of private ISPs of late. Lots of the Big Players from the international market are eyeing the Indian market, seemingly undeterred by the delays and the ongoing tussle between TRAI and DoT. In many cases, they have already gone through much of the paperwork necessary to apply to become an ISP in India as and when the market does open up. It would be interesting, we thought, to take a look at some of the issues they would have to face to set up shop here.
Given the nature of the net and its underlying technologies, it has most often been driven by small, entrepreneurial outfits. These also have the potential to make the industry a service-driven one, rather than a hardware driven one. (that is to say, rather than your target audience being restricted to people who own PCs already, one could look at a situation where people buy a PC just to access this service.)
Keeping in mind the unique position of the small operator, and the great interest in this topic, this article will attempt to explore whether being an ISP might be for you, and suggest a brief and moderately priced experiment you can embark on to see if you're ISP material.
I'm making some assumptions about the current state of your ISP project:
You will have to learn Unix. The effort you will go to in order to use less well supported operating systems, such as Windows NT, will be even greater than the effort needed to learn Unix. If you do want to use Windows NT for some reason, be prepared for a tough road, and little sympathy from your fellow ISPs when you have trouble.
Many people interested in this business don't know Unix. One of the strongest suggestions I can give you is to learn it before you take the plunge and spend sizable sums on equipment and connections. If you have a connection that's costing you a pretty packet, and you're still trying to figure out how to do a directory listing on your shiny new system, you're in big trouble.
If you don't know Unix, but you would like to learn it in order to become a player in this business, here are some suggestions.
Don't forget to look through the online documentation that comes with your copy of Linux -- it's a valuable resource.
When you start out, get a Sun or Alpha system. Yes, PCs are cheap. The problem is that they're cheap because they're not designed or engineered as well as the higher-end machines. Most PC systems are designed only for the low-stress life of running Windows and Windows applications. A Unix system puts many more demands on a system than the usual PC software.
You can get a high-quality PC if you know where to look, but the cost can be nearly as much as a decent workstation, particulary if you're willing to consider a Sun clone instead of the real thing.
Recently, there has been a trend of companies springing up solely to provide space on the World Wide Web (WWW), as opposed to the traditional ISP.
One reason for this is that the advent of SLIP/PPP has made product differentiation more difficult than in the past. Web presence provision is especially attractive if you have artistic or creative ability to put into the venture.
Be warned, though, that the competition is getting very stiff in this area, and it's not clear whether costs are up too high and prices too low for the service to remain solidly profitable. Check local conditions before you leap, and make sure you have something special you can bring to the table.
You might also want to explore the possibilities of generating your own unoque content (for example, a syndicated column for which you have exclusive net-wide rights) and either parcel it our to other wannabe ISPs, or directly to the end-user.
We'll be looking at other issues faced by this fascinating new market in future columns. Your feedback, as always is welcome. You can contact me at <firstname.lastname@example.org> -- I'm always happy to hear from you.