I started using BSNL 3G and here my experience. Probably it is an early review as I just staretd using it since today :-)
As soon as I bought an iPhone, I realized that I need to have a data connection to fully levarage its power. An iPhone which cant connect to internet is not as powerful as it potentially could be . While in New Zealand, I subscribed to 3G to experience it for the first time and I absolutely loved it. I was really amazed at the speed I was getting on my phone and the possibilities it created. I paid 6 NZD for 50 MB of data. It is expensive so I decided to use it cautiously.
After returning to India, I knew that 3G is not widely available and hence was checking EDGE plans from my provider Vodafone in Karnataka. While EDGE is reasonably priced for some smartphones and feature phones, it is not the case with iPhone. Being a prepaid customer, I dont have not any option. Vodafone has just one plan for iPhone which is very expensive and is conveniently hidden by advertising in lower denomination. It costs <i>just</i> 5 paisa per 10 KB which translates to Rs. 5 per 1 MB. It is very expensive but I decided to try it nevertheless. Intially they never charged me but one day I realized that they charged me in bulk at once. So I decided that it is not viable and tried looking for alternatives.
-How I managed a BSNL 3G SIM
I started exploring 3G plans from BSNL. They are affordable and being an incumbent provider, their network is obviously superior and far reaching than other private players. But I know it is difficult to get a service from BSNL that too a service whose availability is limited. So I started searching for any connections in BSNL and recollected that my mother had a close childhood friend who works for BSNL Bangalore. Earlier she told me couple of times to see him but I never bothered. Now I became very much interested in him and got his number from my mom. I learned from my mom that he is an ITS officer working as a General Manager at BSNL Bangalore. So I was apprehensive to call him as I wondered if it is ethically correct to use his connection. Also I was not sure how he would respond as he is a busy senior government official. After a lot of thought I realized that I am going to use his conenction to cut red tape and not to cut any rule. So I am convinced and gathered courage to call him. He responded very positively and asked me to see him with the required documents.
I went to his office day before yesterday to meet him. He was in middle of a meeting with some other officers so I waited outside his office. I was still unsure of how to talk to him. He called me inside and directly asked me what I want. I shamelessly told him that I want a BSNL 3G prepaid SIM card. Then he said he can get it and asked me if I got the documents and photos with me. I said yes. Then he called one of his sub-ordinates to get me an application. While I was filling the application, he made me comfortable and he asked me about what I do. I told him about me and I asked him what he does :-) He explained me what he does and we discussed personal and a lot of other stuff including 2G spectrum scam. He was heading one of the optical fibre projects BSNL is executing for Indian Air Force. I finished filling application and gave id proof, address proof and photo. His subordinate took the docs asked me to wait. Meanwhile he told me that he had to attend an important meeting and asked me to wait in his office. He offered me something to eat or drink but I politely denied. I waited in his lavish and nice office playing Angry Birds. After about an hour, his sub-ordinate returned with the SIM. I paid Rs. 180. Rs 59 for the SIM and a mandatory Rs.120 recharge which keeps the account active for 6 months.<i> Uncle</i> also came back in few minutes after that. I thanked him and came out feeling happy and grateful with the SIM.
-Getting it work
That night I decided to cut the SIM to turn it into a Micro-SIM. The cutting took lot of time as I was very cautious for I know I have to cut it right first time. Finally I cut it and inserted it into my iPhone. I felt relieved after seeing my iPhone display CellOne. Then I called BSNL Customer Care to find the settings. They asked me to send SMS to a short number. But it was not working. After spending some time I realized that the process is different for iPhone. I simply had to enter “bsnlnet” as APN. The process told by customer care is for other phones. After setting APN, I got to see “E” but still I cant see “3G” on my phone. I thought that could be because my account doesn’t have balance.
Yesterday I decided to recharge my account but getting a retailer who does BSNL data recharge is not easy. I found one mobile recharge shop near my office but he was not understanding what I want. He said he can do it and was jumping to normal minutes recharge. He was clueless when I told him I wanted 3G data recharge. I came back to my desk and found that BSNL has a portal to do online recharge but I decided to call Customer Care to find out if it really works. Because they way it is designed is very unprofessional. It looks like a website of earlier generation. Customer Care rightly warned me to stay away from it and requested me not to get them additional work of processing my refund. They advised me to go to the nearest BSNL office for the recharge. So I had to go to BSNL office in Koramangala BDA complex. There was a fight going on between an old man and the lady at the counter. The office is a typical government one with few employees who are old and middle aged. Thankfully the fight was settled soon and the lady started serving customers. The lady was nice and helpful. I waited for my turn and bought 500 MB data for Rs. 275 valid for 30 days. There is no vouchure to buy, which I thought I will buy one extra for next month. They will only recharge from their mobile. I thought of recharging for some voice minutes and asked for Rs. 25 to round off the bill. But she suggested me to top up for Rs. 55 for which I get full talk time. The SIM was not in the phone during the recharge but the lady told me that it doesn’t prevent the account recharge. After going home I eagerly inserted the SIM and still couldn’t find 3G. It was switching to E. Then I tried calling Customer Care but couldn’t get the operator to raise the complaint. Does that indicate something :-) It is after all BSNL. So I decided to call them in odd hours when they hopefully be free. I called them again this morning imemdiately out of bed after waking up at 5:30 AM this morning. I got the operator in no time and he told that in some areas 3G is not available yet. I was slightly disappointed. I don’t live in a suburb. I live well within the city. Even then I am not in 3G coverage area. Anyway I decided to check at office. I checked again in the bus stop while waiting for bus. Voila! I got 3G. Since then 3G is available mostly throughout my commute to office along outer ring road and Hosur road in Bangalore. For some little time it switched to E. But mostly 3G is available. It is also available at my office in Electronic City.
At one point I noticed speeds of 1 Mbps for download and 0.45 Mbps for upload. I noticed 0.66 Mbps, 0.78 Mbps for download and 0.10 Mbps and 0.11 Mbps upload respectively. I measured teh speed using SPeetest.net app for iPhone. I turned on maps navigation. The map is updating in real time as my bus travels. Downloaded few apps from App Store and some books from iBooks Store. They got downloaded very fast.
The price is very affordable. Under 50 paise for 1 MB of 3G data. Compare this to Rs. 5 Vodafone charges for 1 MB of EDGE data. Tata Docomo charges Rs. 500 for 500 MB of 3G data. Docomo offers 1000 local , national and roaming minutes as well but still data alone is expensive with them. There are no unlimited plans from anybody whereas BSNL offers 6 months unlimited data for Rs. 4200, which is very good. I dont expect affordable rates in near future from any other private operators given the money they shelled out to acquire 3G spectrum.
Their voice plans are slighlty more than what private operators offer. The default voice plan I am on costs 50 paise on same network and 70 paise for different network, local and STD alike. I never bothered to check other voice plans as I don’t intend to use this connection for voice calls and SMS. I stick to my existing Vodafone prepaid. Yes, I have to carry 2 phones now. I am ok because they both do 2 different things better. Also this helps me to avoid pulling out my iPhone frequently amidst the crowds and in public places. Basic Nokia for voice and SMS.iPhone for internet, games, apps, camera and books.
There is no doubt that BSNL has the best network coverage in the country and they are the first to roll out 3G.The signal strength is very high. I see all 5 bars mostly. But there are some catches. I could not get 3G when in home but that is ok as I can use Wi Fi. I am yet to check in other places in Bangalore. For now I checked only in the route from my home to office which covers outer ring road and Hosur road and at my office in Electronic City. The signal strength is very good in these places.
It is pathetic I must say. Not even a single thing they asked me to do worked. The only possibly correct thing they told me is to stay away from online portal for recharging. Some of them are not so knowledgable and are in hurry to end the call. Some people are polite though. The lady I met at BSNL office is very cordial and knowledgable.
The website is equally pathetic. It is also very confusing. It has lot of details and too many confusing jargons like FRC, STV, C-Topup etc etc. Online Rechare Portal is highly unusable and is present only for the sake.
I faced tough time finding the difference between Recharge and Top-up. Finally understood that Recharge is for keeping account active. Top-up is to buy extra minutes or data in case you run out them during active period of the account.
Availability of recharge vouchers:
To buy any data vouchers I have to physically walk to BSNL office between 10 AM to 5 PM at least once a month to get any recharges or top ups done. The dealer network is not widely available and those few dealers have no idea about data recharges. All they do is minutes recharge.
Overall, I feel lucky and happy to have got an opportunity to experience 3G mobile technology which is still in its nascent stage in India. I understand the shortcomings and am happy to live with them. I know that it will get better over time.
+ Superior network and coverage. IVR reads out a long list of Karnataka towns.
+ Being 3G, good speeds
+ Affordable plans
– Availability of 3G SIM cards
– Bad customer service
– No online recharge option
– Near zero retailer network
– Visit their office for any service
* I am not interested in video calling feature so I never tried to explore for the dependencies it has.
* I don’t watch tv at home let alone on my mobile. So Mobile Tv is also a strict no no for me. I never explored it as well.