Airtel 3G Experience

March 12th, 2011

I will never forget the fateful call with airtel when their marketing executive called me to interrupt my lunch saying they were offering me a higher speed on my unlimited usage connection at the same price. Being an enthusiast, I had opted for an unlimited usage plan at 1Mbps speed and was pretty happy with the performance I used to get, which sufficed for my needs while I was at home, and the family’s needs while I was away at work.

However, they upgraded my plan with incomplete information and completely ripped me off the internet experience when they added the FUP to my plan which I had never agreed to. I complained and airtel refused to roll me back to the older plan that I was used to, and thus came to an end the smooth sailing with airtel that I had enjoyed over the years.

Now comes 3G. And naturally, while everyone has been complaining about the high prices, I figured I would like to test this connection with an alternate pre-paid number to check if it actually works. So, off I went to get a pre-paid SIM and have it activated with 3G under what they call “flexi-shield” pack.

The very notion about airtel wanting to protect their customers against something called “bill shock” makes you feel that they are anyway out to bill you heavily. They offer the option of some 1.5 GB of data for 675 rupees, and you can continue to use 3G until your bill becomes 2,000 and that’s where the story ends. Ouch! At 3G speeds, (claimed at 20 Mbps), this much quantity of data can be used within a day.

While I was quite sure, I would need an alternate carrier to use 3G for enthusiastic work I like doing. And it’s like Airtel could hear that, because it took them more than 48 hours to activate 3G on the pre-paid number, after they had deducted the amount of Rs. 689 (which I couldn’t figure out why they specified 675 in the promo).

Once activated, the thrill of seeing the 3G icon on my Airtel locked iPhone 3Gs was quite temporary, as I get limited network coverage on my first floor bedroom, with no resolution against a lot of promises made by airtel. Within a few seconds, the 3G icon changes to E (edge) and you lose all the network coverage. It doesn’t work on Edge to provide any internet access if 3G is activated. I am still to test if we get any internet access while travelling, but this experience already begins to make it taste salty.

Twenty four hours later, I get an SMS from airtel on my regular number, saying I can use 3G on my current data plan and pay for additional usage if any at some cost, and guess what, I feel that its been a waste to invest in the trial connection. However, there is a catch. Not one but two.

Firstly, if you’re on the 3G network, you end up losing a lot more connectivity as opposed to 2G network that I was using earlier. This means, I am unable to meet my basic need to being able to send and receive emails through the 2G network, and that’s a big problem. Additionally, when I use my regular post-paid SIM on which I received the offer by SMS, i do not actually get the 3G network at all. Now what?

I made a call to customer care, to check what this offer was all about. In the time that we made the distance between South Delhi’s Haus Khas to Pitampura, customer care couldn’t be successfully reached on airtel’s network, and when I did finally make it through, I got different stories from everyone on the line – one saying I am a priviledged customer and hence this offer is extended to me, and another said that I have to pay for the service. Dissymmetrical!

Back to the pre-paid, I tried over three days to see if the speed was actually up to the mark. The claim of 20Mbps is a little far-fetched to be frank. At best, I got data transfer rates of 1.8Mbps which is comparable to my Tata Photon connection. Additionally, many apps that need high speed data connectivity on the iPhone didn’t last at all, even though the connection was available. Skype was a big problem, and voice calls didn’t go through on Whistle phone either. So much so for 3G at exorbitant prices.

At the end of it, I do not think that an enterprise customer would be too happy with the 3G services provided by airtel. I have seen faster connections being established on iPads powered with MTNL 3G connections, which are also cheaper to use for an enthusiast. In my office, the picos that repeat airtel’s network at not yet 3G, so there is a shadow area of connectivity there as well.

While the company struggles to provide basic services to customers, the customer centricity is completely lost. There is no room for complaints, and if you have one, you better take for granted that it’s not going to be addressed. I continue to complain about network coverage. Moving a lot of the office numbers to Vodafone next week. At least voice will work.

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