Monday, July 23, 2012

BSNL new customer care and billing portal

BSNL keeps re-inventing the wheel when it comes to customer care portals. Often, they are more complicated than needed and as a result, creak and crash under their own weight after a few weeks. The best was having IP address based portals, instead of DNS-resolved URLs, that could only be accessed from a BSNL broadband connection. Most useless because they ended up returning a 404 error when the IP address changed while the static links were never updated.

In April-May 2012, BSNL introduced the call data record (CDR) billing system, along with a new portal. Most customers got a new customer ID as a result of this migration, and it appears that the records are now nation-wide rather than per telecom circle. While this portal is far from perfect and much streamlining is required, it is better than earlier efforts. Go beyond the tacky user-interface, and the service options are, in fact, quite good and worth a look.

I was guided to the correct (and latest) CDR self-care portal by a helpful lady operating the 1500 helpline at 10PM! Until then, I was still accessing the older portals, because that is what search engines showed when looking for help on BSNL. There are multiple such portals and while they continue to authenticate users, and some even show latest billing details, the records are mostly incomplete or inaccurate.

Here's a quick primer on how to use the new portal, hopefully it will save others the trouble.

New CDR Billing System in BSNL

The CDR self-care portal can be accessed here

The HOME screen is quite useless. It does show the account details, but none of the links are actionable. The real action is hidden within the SERVICE tab, accessible from the top right corner.

BSNL Self-Care Options

Within the service tab, you will find a host of self-care options. The most useful (to me) are Check Your Bills, Check Your Complaints Status, and Check Your Unbilled Broadband Usage.

One can also Submit a Complaint, or Submit an Address-Change or Plan-Change request here. I have not used these services online, and prefer to call 1500. In the past, my connection was down for a month after placing a plan-change request online. My experience with 1500 is that it is very efficient and they usually have very knowledgeable and helpful operators, quite unlike the robots manning Airtel helplines. The complaint I registered  10 minutes ago on 1500 was already showing up with status in the online portal.

How to Check BSNL Broadband Usage

Here's a sample of the unbilled broadband usage page. Shows the total volume (in MB) on top, with detailed sessions below it (generally no need to scroll through these 200 pages of detail). Chargeable volume, if the free data limit has been exceeded, will be marked separately. This is again quite useful to keep track of "unlimited" data plans that have a fair-use limit.

Similarly, archived bills can be downloaded in PDF format from the "Check Your Bills" page. The bills show broadband use by volume and duration, and itemized call details. Click on the customer ID to access the bills.

Customer Portal - New User Registration

Finally, a note on the registration process. It is quite simple. Follow the EXISTING USER registration link from the home page, and provide the account details such as Customer ID and phone number. You can create your own username and password. Users of Dataone broadband will get instant access to the portal. Others will get a confirmation call from BSNL to activate their login.

This seems like a pretty good initiative from BSNL and will make it easier for their broadband services to reach the under-served Indian market. A centralized and transparent system is always good for efficiency. It is encouraging to see BSNL go the self-care route for customer care as well, that reduces dependency on ignorant or bored lines-men that struggle to resolve broadband related issues.

Now if only they'd stop throttling Youtube to 250Kbps on my (allegedly) 4Mbps line, life would be perfect...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bada Bing, Bada Boom - IE9 bully tactics

Internet Explorer 9 has made it even more difficult for a lay man to change the default search engine to Google. This is more true for the INDIA specific gallery (it automatically redirects here) than for the parent US based gallery.

The relatively complicated webpage "IE Gallery" used to have the Google add-on on some obscure page 5 earlier. This is now redesigned to completely remove the add-on. Instead you get all sorts of search engines like Bharat Matrimony and Rediff, but Google is hidden deep in the bowels somewhere. Microsoft (correctly) assumes that making it difficult to rip out the slow and lousy Bing will encourage customers to keep the default, and bolster its claims of Bing adoption. 

Here are some easy steps to replace Bing with Google, if you want to. I suggest you also remove and disable all other add-ons and accelerators in the settings page. It increases the speed of IE9 and makes it usable if you HAVE to (such as for some poorly designed financial websites). For everything else, there's Chrome :-)

Step 1 - Go to settings (top right corner) -- Internet Options
Step 2 - Click Settings under the General --> Search tab

Step 3 - Click Find More Search Engines at the bottom of the Search providers tab

Step 4 - Google Search is missing on the Search provider page. Instead you see some useless engines such as Naukri and BharatMatrimony.

Step 5 - This problem is more on the non-United States pages. Notice the language is "Indian English" on top right

Step 6 - Change the language to "United States (English)" on top right

Step 7 - Google search engine is prominently number 1 option on the US IE Gallery. If not, a search will bring it up. Click the image.

Step 8 - Confirm the add-on refers to and not some micro-site. Add to Internet Explorer. Select MAKE THIS MY DEFAULT SEARCH ENGINE while adding.

Step 9 - Go back to Internet Options, select the Bing engine, and remove it. Also remove any other add-ons or accelerators. This will speed up IE9 load times and running speed.

While I fully support choice, and believe that multiple products are helpful in any market, I do not appreciate the way Microsoft tries to bully its way into the browser market-share earlier and now search engine market-share. It is true that most users are not tech-savvy, so the responsibility is to make it easier for them to select what is best and not make it more complicated!

I have a recent beef with Google too, the way they are forcing Google+ into products such as Picasa and Gmail now. That is not the right way to win hearts and market-share. The old way was better-- make kick ass products!! 

But that's another post... :-)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kaikondanhalli Lake

Such a beautiful jogging track, almost 2KM, around a nicely located lake on Sarjapur Road. Shabana Azmi did wonders to beautify Bandra's promenade using her MPLAD funds. If only Bangalore MPs were less greedy, similar funding could provide a public space to residents of this water-starved area, reduce dependence on malls for evenings and weekend, and public use of the lake would ensure that builders don't slowly but surely destroy and encroach this prime location....

Lake-a-thon at Kaikondanhalli Lake in 2011

Kaikondanhalli Lake