Even though Indian telecom companies make great efforts to expand their mobile network infrastructure, you may encounter problems making calls. Peak times around late afternoon regularly cause network overloads and sometimes you will be forced to postpone calls. Sometimes you may also have difficulties making international calls from your cell phone, regardless of which provider you have. In these situations, you have no option other than to wait.
Mobile phone providers in India
Due to market liberalization, many international mobile network operators have established services in India. The biggest player in the market is Airtel, which even offers services and network coverage in remote areas.
Other providers include Vodafone, state-run BSNL, MTNL, Loop Mobile, Spice Mobile, Reliance Telecom and Idea Cellular. Although these service providers are expanding their network coverage, they still only operate in some regions in India.
Before you decide on a provider, make sure that it covers the area you are going to be working and living in. Check with individual providers for more information.
Using your mobile phone from home in India
Indian mobile networks use GSM at 900 MHz. Recently, 1800 MHz networks have begun to appear, but they still only cover small parts of India. If you want to have a reasonable chance of using you phone from home in India it should be able to handle 900 MHz.
Since many Indian providers have roaming contracts with international companies, you should not have problems using your phone in India with a foreign contract – but remember that making frequent roaming calls will leave you with enormous phone bills.
If you intend to stay in India for an extended period of time, it is definitely cheaper to get an Indian mobile connection. In many cases, this will be even more economical than getting a fixed line in India.
You can choose between taking out a mobile contract or buying a prepaid card. Usually, tariffs for contracts are better and there are special options available, such as free-minutes bundles. Some providers also offer reduced rates to international destinations. On the other hand, contracts usually stipulate a minimum length of 12 to 24 months.
To get a mobile phone contract you usually need to go to one of your provider's shops and fill out an application. You have to provide proof of identity (passport with visa, Indian driving license) and proof of address (residence permit, utility bill).
Most providers require security payments, but that should usually not cost more than five US dollars. Your SIM card will be activated after your application has been processed. Usually, it takes about 24 to complete the entire process.
Prepaid mobile cards
If you want to stay flexible, you will probably have to opt for a prepaid card. Be aware, however, that you may have difficulties charging up your prepaid card in some parts of India, even with your own provider! Many prepaid providers offer region-specific discounts in order to compete in certain local markets (mainly in big cities). These products might not be available in other parts of India, leaving you unable to use regular top-up cards as well. If you plan on traveling, politely refuse the regional discounts.
Also keep in mind that in many cases your mobile phone will not be charged with the complete amount you have bought a top-up card for. Many providers charge a “top-up fee” for the recharge, which is deducted from your calling credit.
There are also validity dates for charge ups. Your credit expires if you do not use it within one or two months. You might consider adding one large amount of credit in one go instead of adding various small amounts as needed: The more credit you add in on go, the longer it will remain valid. In addition, fees are proportionally less the more credit you add.
Getting a mobile phone
Independent of whether you choose a contract or a prepaid card, you will have to get your mobile handset on your own. There are many shops in India offering new and used handsets and, due to the size of the Indian mobile phone market, even the newest phones are available in most shops. Renting cell phones used to be an option as well, but has become less popular as prices for new phones have dropped significantly in recent years.