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Friday, February 02, 2007

India cell phone service for US Travelers

Based on my recent trip to India, several of you contacted me to ask if I used my mobile phone while I was there and how it worked. In this post, I will let you know how things worked for me. The other option is to of course buy or rent a cell phone when you arrive -- which has its own problems.

First off, my cell phone of choice is the Blackberry 8700C (crackberry). I have had it for a little over a year and have been pretty happy with it. This is especially true when I compare it to the previous models of the 7280 & 7780 that I have owned. The phone, while not fantastic is a great improvement. My service provider is with Cingular / AT&T Wireless -- I never know which one it is this week.

Before you head out, there are a number of services that you need to add to your phone if you want to use. Without them your phone either may not work or it may cost you an arm and a leg to try. The services that I had added to my phone included international calling, international roaming, and unlimited international data. This pretty much assured me that I would have some sort of connectivity, assuming that service was good.

At the timeI was traveling, there were no minute packages, so I could not pre-order in groups of 100 or 300 minutes. The per minute charges were pretty hefty, ~$2/minute in Germany and ~$5/minute in India -- pretty much assuring that I would not spend much time on any phone calls.

Here is what I found in the locations I visited:
  • Mumbai/Bombay: For some reason, near the airport service (Sheraton) was pretty shaky. I would occcassionaly catch a signal and get some data briefly. The closer you go to the center of the city, the better and more reliable service was for both data and voice.
  • Pune/Poona: This was the worst location for service. Overall, service was sketchy and unpredictable -- bad enough to make me wonder if my account had been frozen or put on hold. Basically you can go up to 8 hours with no service and then come up for 3-4 hours in the same location. Relatively frustrating, but just seems to be the state of the telecommunications in the city.
  • New Delhi/Noida: Flawless. Service was excellent from the time we stepped off the plane and covered us without issue all the way out to the suburb of Noida. The quality was as good as if you were in the United States.
  • Frankfurt, Germany: While on layover, the phone worked just as it did in Noida. No issues to report and service was accessible from the second I landed.

Hopefully this will help you plan the telecommunications for your trip to India. The bottom line is that if you are going to Pune/Poona and you are on Cingular -- you may want to look at the various partnerships and see if you can rent a phone while there or bring one from a different US provider that would provide better service.