India is fast growing as the destination of choice for travelers to India it offers plenty of places to visit. India is a sovereign country made up of 29 provinces or states. Thereby can also be called as the United States of India.

India has many mobile services providers few are regional and few have the license to operate at the national level.  The regional operators have tie-ups with other services providers to offer national roaming services. The incoming call services in India across the nation is free, but for the subscribers of regional service providers its needed to latch only to the partner network to receive free incoming.

Mobile Telephony in India

India offers world’s cheapest calling rates and best pricing for mobile data as well. India has 2G, 3G & 4G with 4G VOLTE services providers in India. BSNL which is a state-owned mobile services provider has the best network coverage across the nation with 4G data services in selected service areas, whereas 3G and 2G are available almost everywhere. Besides best network coverage BSNL is not an Ideal choice. To know more continue reading.

Select Network Based on places you are visiting

This is my personal experience of extensive roaming in India. I have visited both rural and city and larger cities called meters with the same service providers. I  used to carry 3-4 networks in my two dual sim phones and data card. Therefore, I have experienced the service offering of most of the networks in India.

Metros (Cities with >2 billion population): India has four metro cities names New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad However, after the division of the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana the Hyderabad is almost lost the status of Metro based on its population. If your tour to India is limited to visiting only Metro cities than network providers like Vodafone, BSNL, Idea, Airtel will offer good network coverage and 4G LTE data services. JIO which is the brand name of mobile services offered by Indian conglomerate Reliance is a 4G VOLTE service provider across India.

Mobile Handsets: In case you are planning to use your handset in India than its better to get it unlocked or buy a second hand Unlocked handset for your trip to India. If your handset support 4G VOLTE then Jio is the best network for you as it offers high-speed data of up to 30mbps which is highest in India. If the handset does not support 4G VOLTE then you will be able to use the data services of JIO in your 4G LTE handset but it will not support calling and SMS services.

Hence my suggestion is to buy a handset in India based on the service provider selected. The selection process does not end here.

Major Cities and Towns (Population range <2 billion but more than 1 million) 

India is a vast country and its 30% of the population lives in cities which makes it to around 35-40 billion people. Which is also equivalent to having half of Australia in almost every big city of India and a full in every metro. All these places are also very well covered by mobile service providers, and you will get both 3G and 4G services and also JIO with 4G LTE services.

Rural and Villages (Population of more than 40 people): 

Any place in India with more than 40 people living can be classified as a village. India’s 70% population lives in villages. Here the mobile services provider game changes. Not all private service providers are offering services across the nation as mentioned above. They have opted for profitable areas or locations. Rural with low population density is not a cash cow for them hence they left out these locations or installed very few towers near highways. As a state-owned entity, BSNL expanded its reach to every nook and corner of India except few secluded locations like big jungles, and terrains far away from highways and habitation.

Although the scenario has been changed and private networks like Vodafone, Airtel, Idea, and Jio have increased their presence in these locations as well. But there is no other match to the network coverage like BSNL.

How I travel in India?

Coming back to which network to subscribe when you land in India. Based on your itinerary select your service provider.  To be honest, when I travel out of the city knowing that I would be moving through different locations. I take a wifi data dongle of JIO which cost around 70USD. Additional is the prepaid recharge for 2GB, 4G internet per day for a month costing 3USD. Wifi dongle is used for my video uploads on my YouTube Channel. I carry a basic Nokia phone with a 2G network having prepaid BSNL connection. I always keep as a backup phone in my bag. Other than this I have my Android dual SIM phone with one Airtel prepaid connection and one Vodafone postpaid connection.

Why I carry so many networks?

As I mentioned earlier not all service providers have the best coverage across the nation. There are patches on highways where you don’t get any mobile coverage or its just BSNL. There are places in India like the state of Jammu and Kashmir where prepaid mobiles do not work. Hence, having a postpaid connection is must to stay connected. My last visit to Vaishno Devi Shrine which is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,  I carried postpaid connection of Jio and Vodaphone and Airtel. Jio and Airtel worked in Jammu but was not working in the mountains of Vaishnodevi and at the Shrine. Its only Vodafone worked.

My recent trips

Whereas during my parents trip to Kashmir, with their friends two years back it was Airtel which was connecting at more locations then BSNL or Vodafone. A few years back when I visited Himachal and covered Kullu, Manali, Manikaran and Rohtang Pass it was BSNL and Reliance (not Jio, Jio was not launched. Reliance is no more operational) giving best coverage.

Traveling south India with BSNL is the best option for calling connectivity. Especially when driving through lush green jungles of India.

What’s the take?

Yes, I  know this is what you have been waiting to know. If you are in India for a short visit limited to big cities and your phone set is accepting 4GVOLTE then go for JIO. And if it does not support 4GVOLTE then go for Vodafone as Airtel off late is having a lot of call drops and cross locations.

However, if you have planned to map the length and breadth of this great country and wants to find your inner self in the heights of the Himalayas or on a rejuvenation voyage at an Ayurveda center in lush coconut grooves of Kerela or following a trail in the Tiger reserve of Jim Corbett National Park. And your need is not the data but only best-calling connectivity then go for BSNL.

Indian Mobile Network Operators – 2011 edition

My Suggestion

 At personal front, I suggest going for two connections from different service provider where one has to be BSNL/MTNL (in Mumbai) and other can be Vodafone/Jio based on your handset. Jio would be better as its data speed is more than others in the 4G segment. Otherwise, Vodafone now with the merger of Idea Cellular can offer better coverage across India with 4G connectivity.

Some of the other service providers are Tata Docomo, Uninor, Aircell, Videocon. Where Tata is PAN India service provider but not having 4G services across India and later are regional service providers.

Free Wifi availability in India

A few years back govt of India has launched free SIM card scheme for International Tourists from BSNL with INR 50 talk time and 50GB data however it was discontinued early 2018. Hence, if anyone telling you that he can provide you a free SIM card then please reverify from Indian service providers or write to me at myindiatravelbuddy@gmail.com. I will check and revert you.

All airports in India are having shops to buy SIM as soon you land, I am not sure what plans they offer, but based on my experience of traveling abroad and some of the other international travelers when they purchased SIM at the airport the plans offered to them were different from the plans available when they purchased from open market. I expect it to be the same for Indian service providers as well. You may not need to worry about losing connectivity when you arrive in India.

Wifi at public places

All airports offer free Wifi, so as railway stations and many branded coffee shops like Barista, Star Bucks & Cafe Coffee Day are having free Wifi, Indian govt. is also in plans to provide Free WiFi across cities for tourists and some of the places it’s already active. Wifi service at these places is not free for unlimited time but can be assessed for almost 30-45 min. You need to have a roaming active SIM with SMS to receive an OTP (password).

In case you have any difficulties, please contact the helpdesk or seek the help of any police personnel. Airport staff, or an Indian co-flyer, we Indians feel obliged serving our guests.

Documents needed to obtain a SIM for foreign tourists

I have experienced that some of the Hotels charge International clients for Wifi service which otherwise free for few other clients, I have also observed that the charges for foreign tourist are far higher for a day than buying a new JIO WiFi data card and subscription charges for a month. Therefore,  please ensure at the time of booking the hotel ensure that the WiFi is included in your room charges. You can select your Hotel services like meals with Free Wifi and other services here or use our customized booking services by clicking here.

The Government of India tightening regulations on the sale of prepaid SIM cards to foreigners, you need to be prepared to submit the following documents to the vendor along with an application form.

  • 2 color passport photographs of yourself
  • A photocopy of the personal details page of your passport. It may also be required to produce your passport for verification, after which it will be returned to you.
  • A photocopy of your Indian visa. Once again, you will have to show the original visa for verification.
  • A photocopy of the proof of your home address in your country of residence. This could be your passport, driver’s license or any other Government issued document. Remember to carry the original document along for verification.
  • Proof of where you will be staying in India. A letter from your hotel confirming that you are a guest will suffice.

Source of above information in Italics: http://www.indiahealthcaretourism.com/mobileconnection.php

Activation duration

A SIM card in India is generally free with no activation charges, however, it may cost sometimes up to 4USD.

Based on your duration of stay the SIM will stay active for 1 month or more. A SIM card in India has to be used (made a call) and recharged (adding balance) at least once in six months time to consider it in use. Otherwise, its considered not in use and deactivated by the operator.

There are different plans available based on the duration. Starting from 28 days to a year and beyond and costing 3-4 USD with unlimited India calling and receiving calls even in roaming on the same network. Calling outside India you can select packs which are different for different operators. Few give free calls in a pack and few reduces the calling rates. To avail, the ISD (International Subscriber Dia) services you need to buy additional coupons.

Recharging Balance

Recharging phones is very convenient in India, mobile apps provided by all the service providers and are compatible with Andriod, Windows, and iOS. The same can also be purchased from almost any generally commodity shop, mobile galleries, mobile repairs, and even grocery stores. However, you may need to pay in Indian currency. Credit cards or debit cards are not accepted at small shops. One of the most useful mobile App in India is PayTM. It helps you shop almost anything using digital money and is widely accepted at local small and big stores and gas stations. You just need to add to the Digital Wallet of PayTM.

What all can be done with PayTM?

You can add calling wallet balance of your phone, buy a pizza or pay for bus or movie tickets. Other essential apps are OLA & Uber for Taxi, RedBus for Bus services. IRCTC for Railway booking, Swiggy, and  Zomato for the food order. Whereas OYO, and Air BNB for hotel and stay booking are most commonly used apps. The big brother Google has everything to show near you. The PayTM wallet is also widely accepted by other apps and you don’t need to add money in different wallets.

The Indian govt. rules and regulation and pricing keep changing. Therefore, it’s better to carry all the mentioned proofs in original along with 5 photocopies of each document. You can write to me before starting your journey. I will update you with the latest information available on the requested topic. Kindly carry a handful of passport size photographs of every traveler with you. Its required at many places to avail services like hotels etc.

Your India Travel Buddy is available to help you with any assistance needed. Please visit the home page for more information.

Happy India Travel

2 Comments

  1. Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Excellent. I am also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your effort.

    1. Author

      Thanks, for the appreciation.

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