Saturday, July 28, 2018

Who provides the fastest LTE speeds in Bengaluru?

The story of mobile data in Bengaluru


First things first, let's put aside some details and facts about what made me to do this test as such. I usually have at least two sim cards, sometimes four just to get an exact view of who provides good service and where in the city.

The where part is very important as one has to understand that you will not get great data speeds or great call quality everywhere in the city you live. There are a lot of factors that become the reason for this behaviour including distance from cell tower, inability to provide more cell towers or signal amplifiers due to low numbers of users in the area, etc.

Players in the comparison


So I had one sim from each provider - Reliance Jio, Airtel, Idea 4G and Vodafone. Good enough to compare LTE data or 4G data as some claim - whatever be the minor differences.

By some of the conversation and information on quora - Theoretically LTE is expected to support a speed of around 100Mbps for users in motion and around 1Gbps for stationary users. The most recent report on LTE speeds on networks worldwide shows that the Vodafone ES network in Spain was the fastest offering speeds of around 25.2Mbps on average.

4G is a replacement for 3G, and LTE is a type of 4G which is superior to normal 4G. In any case the typical speeds of 4G are about 10x that of 3G speeds.

Geographical constraints


I had two locations to measure my LTE speeds, home and office. For this blog post, the readings you will see are for the home part. My home is located next to an army area, where there are no mobile towers nearby. So the expectation is that speeds would be low in general for data. The office was a different scenario.

One location was outside the rooms, in public areas like the cafe, and the other was where I currently sit, inside the building. Again the expectation was that the former case will yield better results while the latter will yield much worse speeds due to building layouts and the likes.

Means to compare speeds


There are lots of apps available these days to help compare mobile data speeds, and each one have their own servers they use, and their own means they use to compare the speed. The popular app is speed test by Ookla which many people use for a lot of time now.

I wanted to use a mobile site which would not necessitate me to download and install apps of any kind. For this I chose FAST which is owned by Netflix. They also offer to compare with SpeedTest at the bottom of the results pages in case you so desire. Due to ease of use, it was FAST for me.

Hardware used


I have used Samsung S8, Apple iPhone 7+, and Apple iPhone SE for the measurements - all pretty decent equipment when it come to hardware. Best selling top notch phones to be precise.

Comparison test and results - who do you think is the best?


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By the order of the results we see that Reliance offered 1.4 Mbps, Vodafone 3.4 Mbps, Airtel 430 Kbps, and Idea 6.2 Mbps. Some explanations and comments here while trying to understand these results.

  • Reliance though on VoLTE, was pretty pathetic at 1.4 Mbps. I can go on to say I have got upto 50+ Mbps (twice of average mentioned above) at best, and once inside the office at few hundreds of Kbps at the worst. But at a location such as home without much hindrances to the signal, the data speeds achieved is nothing short of terrible. You can see that my signals showed 4/4 bars. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.

  • Vodafone have been my staple for a long time now (few years) - I particularly like their billing policies, bill details and communication. Their call quality is not particularly clear (as in HD voice) and their data was nearing between 15-20 Mbps at locations which had great signal. The signal I must mention is NOT LTE, but only 4G. At my home I had 3/4 bars of signal but still slow and terrible speeds of only 3.4 Mbps. They confirmed to me that due to low density of people using the tower at my area, they CANNOT upgrade the infrastructure.

  • Our favourite Airtel next - I think of the lot I tested - the most horrible was Airtel averaging a little over 430 Kbps. Absolutely disastrous. 2/4 signal bars only worsens the prospects of having any decent speeds and the results are not surprising. The signal here was 4G, NOT LTE again.

  • Now the dark horse among the participants - Idea LTE. I had heard a lot about Idea, but never really got a chance to try them out. And surprisingly hold your breath - I got a 6.2 Mbps at the same location with just 2/5 bars. Impressive. But both at home and office, their call quality was circumspect and you cannot have data but not good calls as the whole purpose of having a phone is lost if that is the case. But I understand Idea is merging with Vodafone shortly - so I already know the end result of that marriage.


Comments in conclusion



  • Most operators suffer similar LTE speeds

  • Higher signal bars does not mean great LTE speeds

  • 4G or LTE is not seeming to make that much of difference

  • Many providers are giving less than 3G speeds charging people for 4G - but this is very much dependent on mobile tower strength and density of users, among other things distance as well

  • You need to find out whether there are areas where the peak LTE speeds are available and test your phone there to understand what is the maximum capacity the mobile providers would go up to.

  • Using different speed measurement apps may alter your results to some extent, so use one that has a consistent way of measurement

  • Buy a SIM from a provider who offers you good speeds both at home, and office besides the on the way to work in general - this is where you will spend a lot of time during your life.

  • You need to also check the speeds while traveling between cities - what is good in one city maybe bad elsewhere and vice versa and if you are the constantly traveling kind of person this is another parameter to check

  • Complaining to the operator may or may not resolve the issue especially if they have to boost the mobile tower reception in your area - this is a huge cost and it is not justified to the operator unless there is a return on investment for him. This will also take a lot of time typically couple of years or more to become better based on development needs in the area - how many people more are asking for connections etc.

  • Building constraints such as pillars or thick walls can obstruct speeds to some extent as well. This point is a bit understated but its effects are adverse to a great degree.


So who is the winner finally in the speed test? I will not go by just the results shown here as I have conducted tests elsewhere in the city as well. I have not only used fast.com but also tried downloading mail attachments, or bigger files from same source on different connections. The idea of having good speed is generally to make the access to files, movies, and songs seamless to the extent the user does not feel the slow speeds.

And in this regard the order or mobile operators that do reasonably well are

  • Reliance Jio LTE

  • Idea LTE

  • Vodafone 4G

  • Airtel 4G


A lot can vary depending on where this test is done, ie., either in a village or a smaller town, or a place which has not so much of great connectivity. All these tests were done in Bangalore in a decent locality where all providers have their presence.
Do you feel your mileage is different ? - It would be great to hear your viewpoint, let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Places to see around Kodaikanal - a quick recce

In my last post I discussed about the Kodai Resort Hotel and the benefits it offers being in the middle of Kodai. If you are interested to know more about that click the link. During my stay in Kodaikanal as part of my Madurai-Rameswaram-Kodai trip, I also got a chance to view the most important tourist attractions in and around Kodai. We had a Toyota Innova which I had hired from Madurai, which we continued to use around Kodai. If you rather wish to read about the Kodai International Hotel, click here.

The majestic Kodaikanal Lake


As you would expect, the Kodai town and the lake itself was created by the British folks during the 19th century. The Kodai lake is a star shaped man made catchment area which holds all the rainfall the area receives. Its outflow of excess water forms the silver cascade waterfall 8km downstream.

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The lake has lots of eateries around it, and offers activities like cycling, walking, jogging, etc. You could just sit by the lake and have a hot cup of tea with a samosa or sandwich just enjoying the panoramic views of the lake. Or even better if you want to be in the thick of the action, you can get into a boat and enjoy the real water level view of the lake and its amazing surroundings (you would be surprised how many trees dot the lake boundary) which look surreal while the boating activity is in progress.

During summers the lake offers rather cool environs, but during winters the lake can get pretty cold downwards of 8 deg C. So clothe yourself appropriately. I already warned you. A boating sessions lasts nearly half hour and you can pay and get more if that is what you love to do. Trust me the boat ride is well worth it and it will leave you with memories to cherish.

Coaker's Walk


The coaker's walk is a mountain edge walking track very near to the Kodai Resort Hotel and about a half to one km walk from the lake itself. While entering the walk, it seems like a normal park, but as you start walking you get to see some stunning views of the valley beyond. Whatever the weather, you cannot miss this walk.

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There are lots of people offering toys, hot corn, tea or coffee, cut mangoes, cucumbers and the likes. You also get warm winter clothing if you want to buy some there, so also hats, scarfs and so on. Think of it as an experience and splurge a bit, you will not be disappointed. This is not very long, but whatever bit it offers is still unique to the surroundings. You also have a telescope point at the end of the walk which gives you stunning views of the surroundings at a pittance of a cost.

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The walk starts at club road and ends at St.Mary's road. It is about 1km and useful to go through when you just want a stroll and nothing else.

Kodaikanal Pine Forests


The Kodai Pine forests sport shola, pine and eucalyptus trees and provide a thicket of woods that are unique for the tourists. You can walk through the pine forests and it presents some great photo ops for budding photographers.

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Guna Caves


What was once a beautiful walk to some really deep caves of mesmerising beauty have now been relegated to behind the iron bars view of the distant caves. After the movie Guna was shot there in 1992 the caves became famous which brought along with the fame, dirty tracks and youngsters losing their lives there. Due to this the government now has banned people from reaching upto the caves. The only view you can get is from a tower which is the last point of access to see the caves below.

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If you want to check out some photos of these caves in details, look here. This place is also called devil's kitchen.  The good part of areas around Kodai is that the access fee is very reasonable enabling many tourists to enjoy the good parts without burning a hole in your pockets.

Moir Point


This is yet another view point from which the beautiful valleys surrounding Kodai are visible.

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Pillar rocks


Further on, we come to a location from where the Pillar rocks (mountainous peaks) are visible. This place is a good photo op location with an astounding backdrop and if you are lucky with misty mountains behind you. Many tourists stop here to grab a good view of the mountainous peaks beyond and that all important selfie as a memento to frame and keep.

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Upper lake view


Towards the beginning of all the attractions around Kodai, you can make a brief stop over at the upper lake view, which gives a panoramic view of the Kodai lake in the background although very far away. The real extent of the greenery surrounding the place is visible from this point and its good to get a pic or two with your family from here for cherishing the memories later.

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Parks


The Bryant park and the Chettiar park are must see parks in Kodaikanal. However these could be a bit steep for elders to down all the way and come back up again to the entrances. Please ensure your car is waiting for you on the other side downhill to save yourself some trouble to come up all over again. Since these are hilly regions, most parks tend to start off somewhere uphill and move downhill with the road going around them.

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Other attractions


The Bear Shola falls, Silver Cascade falls, solar observatory, the many parks, and temples around, including the Palani viewpoint provide ample opportunities for a day out if you are not bored of the ones mentioned above already. Its impossible to fit all of this one one single post, and I will write again sometime when I visit the rest of these attractions.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Kodai Resort Hotel - is it worth the money?

Introduction


If you live in South India, and the talk about hill stations crops up, the first thing that comes to the mind are places like Ooty and Kodaikanal. I have already written about Ooty and the stay in Destiny Farm Stay and you can click here to read that article. In this article I bring you a review of the Kodai Resort Hotel and discuss whether the hotel is worth staying in to go aroung sight seeing in Kodaikanal easily. If you wish to read about the Kodai International instead, click here.

Kodaikanal is roughly 450+ kms from Bangalore and the journey by drive can take anywhere between 8 to 10 hours. If you drive at night, add a few more hours to that since you will be traveling slow. If you have kids this number will substantially go up further. One of the other ways to get there is to take a train from Bangalore to Kodai Road Junction station and further take a private cab to reach Kodaikanal. The distance from Kodai Road is 80km and will take about two to three hours to complete.

Location


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The Kodai Resort Hotel is bang in the middle of Kodaikanal and walkable distance to the famous Kodaikanal Lake nearby. It is also very near to the stalls, shopping and other restaurants that make it an attractive location. Given the most costliest hotel around is Carlton Kodai, this hotel we are talking about it just a stone's throw from there.

Further Coaker's walk is just a walk away from the Kodai Resort and for most needs you do not need a car. Everything is literally a walk away. Why this matters is that, either you can stay far away and come to the lake and its surroundings to just shop around, or stay nearby the lake and avoid transportation costs for every journey. So in terms of location this hotel ticks all boxes

In terms the terrain this resort is constructed on a slope and you enter the resort at the top and the rooms go down all the way below. In terms of accessibility for elders this resort could prove to be a pain, but due to its age and the way it is constructed one cannot expect comforts. So for elders this resort is a no-no unless you are willing to take upto fifty steps each time you want to get in or out of the resort. Further if you are the elderly, make sure to ask for a room near the entrance as it will save you some effort and pain.

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The resort itself is nestled in such a way that it offers beautiful views of the mountains around the place from every room terrace. In fact the terrace is the single reason why you should stay in this resort. Each terrace is to some extent blocked from the view of another terrace so privacy is there to some extent. The terrace is a great place to sit down and sip a cup of hot tea or coffee looking at the landscapes and having personal but important conversations for which you never found time earlier due to your hectic schedules.

Rooms


The room we got was almost like a semi house with a hall and a bedroom inside. There is an attached toilet as well. The windows to the room are placed rather high and open into the terrace. In fact the way to the terrace is also from the windows which sounds a bit unique to the place. The rooms were warm and has basic stuff like some cookies and water for you.

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There is also a TV which is mostly useless and I wish the hotels really focussed on bringing about good DTH connections with many channels as they could. Everything is about price and personally for me watching TV on a resort stay is taboo. We go to the resort to do other things like walks, treks, conversations, good food and other activities. TV falls very low in that priority order. But all guests are not like me and would like to spend their evening catching up with TV programs.

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The hotel has a lawn all the way down where the room ends where people can meet and the kids can play with each other. The lawn also has some kids play area with few slides, swings, etc. It also houses an Emu which is a huge bird. The gardens around the laws and stairways are a sight to behold and they really add charm to the place.

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Restaurant


The hotel sports a restaurant near the entrance which has a good spread of food items for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are not covered though you can order a-la-carte items. Each day's stay covers breakfast for all and the restaurant was a nice place to have a morning refresh over that piping hot cup of coffee. The weather in Kodaikanal is pleasant and it varies between cool and cold during non summer months. During summers the temperatures can reach to around 30 deg C which is NOT the best time to visit the place.

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For food there are other good hotels nearby such as Astoria Veg and you can bring food from there if you do not want to use the restaurant.

Dinner, dance and music, star gazing and great sunrise moments


There is also a dance floor during the late evenings which has music playing for you to participate and dance if you wish to. Typically this goes on for an hour or two every night and if you are tired after the morning's journeys around, you can relax and hit the dance floor. It is in the club area and slightly away and high placed compared to the rooms below. The sound can be heard in the rooms a bit and nothing much can be done about it.

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Given the rooms sport huge terraces, its a fantastic opportunity for both star gazing at night and some great sunrises in the morning. It is so picture perfect that I can say I have never seen such beautiful sunrises from a hill station for quite sometime now. We always see good sunrises from beaches, but this is another great experience altogether.

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Other notable things about the resort


The resort also stocks a club and a library which has good books for kids. If your kid is of the type they want to read books then nothing better than here. The same place also sports TT tables for a game or two. There is also a small shop that sells among other things toys, spices, chocolates and other small gifts. Nothing that you will not get anywhere nearby though so it is really upto you if you want to purchase something from here.

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The major attractions include Coaker's walk and the stunning Kodai lake nearby which are both walkable to the resort. I will speak about these in a different blog post.

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Pricing


The resort is reasonably priced with deals ranging between Rs.2000 upto Rs.7000/- during the monsoon months (prices will vary for peak times and based on season and based on the configuration on the rooms you choose). It falls under the reasonable category for what it has to offer in terms of location, food, and room types and is worth considering if you do not want to waste time in going around Kodai.

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Conclusion


If you liked the review of the Kodai Resort hotel and are considering to stay there, please do share in the comments below whether you liked the place and the great walks nearby, and the morning coffee with sunrise.

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The Kodai Resort hotel is not very modern, yet is placed exactly in the middle of all attractions, and is priced at a quarter of other bigger star hotels, offers reasonable food and a good environment with unique rooms and terraces. The fact that is walkable to the places nearby is surely a reason you must consider this resort for your next holiday.

The people were warm and hospitable and I also did not see many reasons to complain on the service offered. The elevation makes it a bit impossible for asthmatic patients or elders to climb up and down, but barring that one negative point which is not really in the control of the management if you are able to walk around this resort offers value for money on everything.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review of the sharp air purifier and humidifier KC-F30E-W.

Introduction

After years of struggling with Bangalore’s weather, I tried to understand why my kid was getting sick with asthmatic symptoms over and over again. It struck me there’s something about the air quality that creates this problem other than the pollen in the air.
Looking at Bangalore go from bad to worse it was only an eventuality that I had to really think of investing into an air purifier for my bedroom. Over the years the technology for air purifiers has only become better and better and with standard HEPA filters and air filters being used in air conditioners and the like, the same also started being used for air purifiers. With cities like Delhi almost have an air purifier for every home the concept is still catching up for Bangalore which is taking some time to reach the level of dust pollution that is seen in Delhi.
There are a lot of companies working on air purifiers such as Sharp, Philips etc. A quick search on Amazon shows a host of companies offering air purifiers. I also understood that when the air becomes dry within the room or the atmosphere we are in, it starts to cause an irritation in people’s throats which further cause a lot of cough and runny nose symptoms. couple this with the usual asthmatic symptoms and the whole situation turns nasty with an allergic cough that lasts for over a week or two in small kids.
So now I not only needed a solution to purifying the air at home, I also needed a solution which helps me to humidify the air within the room.

Two in one

Given my need, I wanted a unit which had both the air purifying function and humidification function in a single unit. After having seen a lot of reviews on YouTube and checking out some products on Amazon, I came across an advertisement regarding the sharp KC-F30E model.
For once I did not want to make an online purchase and I wanted to just pay up the cost and have the air purifier on the hand immediately. For this reason, I picked up the contact number for the customer care for Sharp, and make a call to them to understand the models they have and the payment options to secure one of these models.
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Purchase experience

Sharp could not answer my call when I called them but they promptly return the call and assigned an executive from Bangalore city to deal with my case. The executive was in constant touch with me in spite of my busy schedules and I asked him if there was a no-cost EMI option to purchase this product.
Due to my busy schedules the executive was kind enough to meet me at a time of my choice and place of my choice and he brought in the purifier unit to my office along with the payment machine. The device cost me 23500 rupees and I paid the whole thing by a credit card with no cost EMI option for 1 year which cost me around close to 2000 rupees every month.

Device statistics

The device itself is around 5kgs in weight and is as big a personal computer desktop tower or slightly more. The whole unit fits into the boot of my car and I could get it home easily. ,The device itself is constructed in a simple manner with easy access to the filters, the water bay and the controls on the front panel of the device. The device runs on a 5A socket and it’s very easy to use.

Unboxing video

Below is the video I made for the unboxing of the device which you can see to understand what the device looks like in reality.

Controls

The device has a few easy to use buttons on the front console. There is a button to switch between the display of humidification level and temperature in the room. There is a timer button which can help you set the humidification / air purification function to last between 1 hour & 8 hours after which the unit will switch off automatically.
The mode button helps you to switch between the modes auto/ night-time /slow and fast. The Haze button helps to operate the unit at Max high fan speed for 10 minutes followed by 50 minutes operation at high fan speed, and then alternates between low and high level for 20 minutes each.
Then there is the power button for switching the unit off or on, and it also remembers what state the unit was in in the event of a power cut. Further to this using this buttons by the means of a long keypress we could switch the modes between humidifier and purifier, and using either or both, and so on.
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Filters

The unit has a back panel which can be easily removed which gives access to two filters one being the HEPA filter and the other being the deodorizing filter. These can be separately removed and vacuumed or soap cleaned whenever needed.
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Besides this, there is a humidifying filter which resides within a filter frame, which sits further in humidifying tray that holds the water needed for humidification. This tray is easily accessible and we can fill it with water up to the specified level and plug it back into the unit very easily.
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General notes on operation

As a consumer, I understood how to use this device. I went about trying to use it with the water filled into the humidifying tray. The unit is pretty noisy at higher fan speeds but upon setting it to automatic it settled down to a very quiet operation which is barely audible.
If you are expecting the unit to cool the room just like an air conditioner you are mistaken and you will not be able to achieve that with this unit. However, the dampness in the room is clearly felt after a while because of this unit doing its humidifying function.
The lighting on the unit is good and it shows different colours based on what it possesses the dust quality within the room (Green / Orange). The device claims to remove dust particles upto 0.3 microns which would mean coverage on most categories of dust commonly found in homes.

Tangible benefits

I am yet to understand what the exact tangible benefits of using this unit are and my metric of measurement would be how healthy my son would be if this unit is in operation every night in the room that he sleeps in.
If his levels of asthma are under control and he does not get into an allergic cough situation because of using this unit then I would believe that this unit is functional to the extent that I expected it to be.
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Conclusion

For the given price the humidifier and air purifier unit combined in one is a worthwhile investment for now as it doesn’t break your bank. it is a bit bulky but it is also quite during operation and the only need is to find the space for it within your room.
The tangible benefits of this unit would be understood only over long term use but for heavily polluted cities it is almost becoming necessary to have an air purifier as of today.
With constant industrialisation and construction activities going on around the city and the temperatures within the city heating up it is only important that dry cities need the function of humidification as well within the homes that we live in. The sharp purifier and humidifier unit exactly aims to achieve this need.
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If you liked the review, please spare few moments to let me know your thoughts down below in the comments.
Written with StackEdit.