Phone in India
The country code for India is 91. India is then divided into area codes known locally as STD codes. See individual city guides for area codes.
In acronym-happy India, a phone box is known as a PCO (Public Call Office) and they usually offer STD/ISD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing/International Subscriber Dialing) or national and international long-distance calls. These are usually busy and you dial yourself but pay the operator after the call. Billing is per pulse and a service charge of ₹2 is added to the bill. In larger cities, there are also unmanned western-style public telephones, which are usually red and accept one rupee coins.
Local telephone numbers can be between 5 and 8 digits long. However, if the area code is included, all landline telephone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Mobile phone numbers usually start with ‘9’, ‘8’ or ‘7’. The following table explains how to dial:
|Same STD code||Local||Number||12345678|
|Mobile phone||Local||STD code of the city you are in Number||011-12345678|
|Mobile phone||STD to mobile phone||Number||012345678|
|Deviating STD code||STD||0-range code number||022-12345678|
Toll free numbers start with 1-800 but are usually operator dependent: You cannot call a BSNL/MTNL toll-free number from an Airtel landline and vice versa. Often, the numbers don’t work from your mobile phone either. Special charges may apply for other national numbers beginning with 18xx or 19xx.
To dial abroad from India, prefix the country code with 00. For example, a US number is dialled as 00-1-555-555-5555. A call to the USA/Canada/UK on the regular phone line costs about ₹7.20 per minute. Calls to other countries, especially the Middle East, can be more expensive.
Mobile in India
In India, both GSM and CDMA are used and mobile phones are widely available, starting from ₹500. Major operators with India-wide networks include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, MTNL, Reliance Mobile (both GSM and CDMA), TATA DOCOMO (GSM), TATA Indicom (CDMA), Idea Cellular, Uninor, Aircel, MTS (CDMA) and Videocon Mobile. Not all operators operate across India, but they work with other operators to provide nationwide network coverage via roaming, although roaming charges are higher. You cannot use your mobile phone in Jammu and Kashmir as the government there does not allow roaming and prohibits foreigners from buying SIM cards there. Local calls can cost as little as ₹0.10 per minute (typically ₹0.50), although it is considered roaming to call another state within India and additional charges of ₹1-3/min may apply for incoming and outgoing calls. International calls are comparatively cheap, with most destinations at ₹10/min, the same as what you would pay at a PCO booth.
Fully loaded prepaid starter kits are available for around ₹ 500 or less, including a few hundred rupees worth of talk time. Basic SIM cards sell for as little as ₹10-15, while in many cases they are issued for free. You will need an ID and a passport photo, though some shops also insist on a local address in India; try the next one if they are not accommodating. However, the best option is always to buy a SIM card from the phone company’s own shop. This way, you can check that the SIM card is working and that you have been allocated your credit before you leave. Buying from smaller providers often means a delay of a few hours to a few days before they call to get the SIM card working, and you risk having your SIM card cancelled if they never send in your identification papers.
Be aware that talk time (unexpired talk minutes) and validity (the date the SIM card expires) are considered separately and you need to top up both, otherwise the ₹500 you just topped up may disappear in a puff of smoke when the one-month validity expires. If you extend the validity, you will usually also get extra minutes, but you can also buy minutes for less without extending the validity. Alternatively, if you are in India for a longer period of time, you can buy a prepaid SIM with lifetime validity and then top up talk time as needed. Please note that in most cases you will need to recharge at least once every six months to keep the SIM active. The term ‘lifetime’ is somewhat misleading as it refers to the duration of the licence granted to the operator by the Government of India to provide mobile services. If the licence is renewed, your services will continue without any additional charges, but if the licence is not renewed, your lifetime SIM will also become invalid. Licences are issued to operators for a period of 20 years.
Be aware that while large telecom companies like Airtel are technically the same company across India and your SIM card will work wherever you have reception or a partnership, their sales and support teams are often outsourced and franchised. This means that a SIM card bought in one state (even from an official shop) will not only attract a roaming charge if used in other states, but also that your support numbers will not work. For example, if you buy a SIM card in Goa and something goes wrong while you are travelling in another state, the local shops will not be able to help you, and often neither will the support number that came with your SIM card. They will simply tell you to go back to the state where you bought the SIM card for support, or give you other numbers to try and call back in your state of purchase.
This also affects top-ups when you are outside the country where you bought your SIM card. Due to local taxes and company pricing, top-up cards (or the amount you pay for the same amount of talk time) differ from state to state – even if your call cost per minute is the same from state to state. Be aware of the top-up options and prices in the state where you originally bought your SIM card, because if you move to other areas of India, the local top-up options will vary and not apply to you (they only apply to SIM cards bought in that state). For example, if you bought your SIM card in Goa and actually paid ₹120 (₹100 talktime + ₹20 local taxes) for ₹100 talktime credited to your account, but then travelled to another state where there was a promotion where ₹100 talktime costs only ₹100, you are not eligible. You still have to pay the rates of the country where you bought your SIM card, even if the local signage says otherwise. It is important that you always top up according to the location from which you bought your SIM card, so make a note of the top-up options when you buy your SIM card and use these (not the local rates) to top up. As an added complication, many local providers don’t want to top up SIM cards from other countries (which they can tell by your number). This is because the way they recharge phones is by crediting a certain amount of rupees to your account, and then your provider recognises the amount and converts it into a service. For example, ₹120 rupees may mean that your account is topped up with ₹100 talk time, while ₹121 may mean that you get a cricket SMS update pack. Since local top-up shops don’t know the prices of top-ups in the country your SIM card comes from, they don’t want to risk giving you something you don’t want. The way around this, as mentioned earlier, is to make a note of the top-up options when you buy your SIM card and politely insist to the local top-up shops that you know the amount will work. Prices for 2G and 3G internet are usually the same from state to state, which makes this process a little easier
Internet in India
Internet kiosks are everywhere these days and they only charge ₹10-20 per hour (the cost is a trade-off for speed). Be careful when using your credit cards online as many cases of credit card theft using keyloggers have been reported. More reliable chains are Reliance World (formerly Reliance Web World) and Sify iWay.
Calls overseas are also very cheap if you use the many booths that advertise Net2Phoneservice. Quality ranges from acceptable to excellent, and the cost is very decent, with calls to the US starting at ₹2-5 per minute.
Wifi hotspots in India are largely limited. The major airports and railway stations offer paid wifi for around 60-100 ₹ per hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. At Mumbai and Delhi airport, you can use WiFi internet for free for about an hour. Note that many free WiFi services require you to enter a PIN, which is sent to an Indian mobile phone number.
Most internet users in India do not rely too much on WiFi. 3G data cards/USB modems are widely available, but require signing a contract with an operator and therefore may not be a practical option for short-term visitors without a residential address in India. The better companies like Airtel (GSM) and Tata indicom (CDMA) do not rent out data cards, which means you have to buy them outright. Reliance charges ₹650 per month (1GB download free, ₹2/mb) for a data card/USB modem. Incidentally, the cheap price also means a 256 kbit/s connection. Airtel are the cheapest 3G data providers (for phone or data card), with 10 GB (valid for a month) for ₹1250, and much lower amounts too. They have one of the largest networks and free India-wide data roaming, but the downside is the particularly poor customer support, which often manages to make the problem worse.
Internet censorship in India is considered “selective”. There are occasional random, inexplicable and arbitrary attempts by the government to block some sites it deems to be carrying hateful propaganda, but enforcement is spotty and decisions are often forgotten a few days after they are made. It is unlikely that you will find any useful site blocked.