My experience with BSNL 3G in India

I start­ed using BSNL 3G and here my expe­ri­ence. Prob­a­bly it is an ear­ly review as I just staretd using it since today 🙂


As soon as I bought an iPhone, I real­ized that I need to have a data con­nec­tion to ful­ly levarage its pow­er. An iPhone which cant con­nect to inter­net is not as pow­er­ful as it poten­tial­ly could be . While in New Zealand, I sub­scribed to 3G to expe­ri­ence it for the first time and I absolute­ly loved it. I was real­ly amazed at the speed I was get­ting on my phone and the pos­si­bil­i­ties it cre­at­ed. I paid 6 NZD for 50 MB of data. It is expen­sive so I decid­ed to use it cau­tious­ly.

After return­ing to India, I knew that 3G is not wide­ly avail­able and hence was check­ing EDGE plans from my provider Voda­fone in Kar­nata­ka. While EDGE is rea­son­ably priced for some smart­phones and fea­ture phones, it is not the case with iPhone. Being a pre­paid cus­tomer, I dont have not any option. Voda­fone has just one plan for iPhone which is very expen­sive and is con­ve­nient­ly hid­den by adver­tis­ing in low­er denom­i­na­tion. It costs <i>just</i> 5 paisa per 10 KB which trans­lates to Rs. 5 per 1 MB. It is very expen­sive but I decid­ed to try it nev­er­the­less. Intial­ly they nev­er charged me but one day I real­ized that they charged me in bulk at once. So I decid­ed that it is not viable and tried look­ing for alter­na­tives.

-How I man­aged a BSNL 3G SIM

I start­ed explor­ing 3G plans from BSNL. They are afford­able and being an incum­bent provider, their net­work is obvi­ous­ly supe­ri­or and far reach­ing than oth­er pri­vate play­ers. But I know it is dif­fi­cult to get a ser­vice from BSNL that too a ser­vice whose avail­abil­i­ty is lim­it­ed. So I start­ed search­ing for any con­nec­tions in BSNL and rec­ol­lect­ed that my moth­er had a close child­hood friend who works for BSNL Ban­ga­lore. Ear­li­er she told me cou­ple of times to see him but I nev­er both­ered. Now I became very much inter­est­ed in him and got his num­ber from my mom. I learned from my mom that he is an ITS offi­cer work­ing as a Gen­er­al Man­ag­er at BSNL Ban­ga­lore. So I was appre­hen­sive to call him as I won­dered if it is eth­i­cal­ly cor­rect to use his con­nec­tion. Also I was not sure how he would respond as he is a busy senior gov­ern­ment offi­cial. After a lot of thought I real­ized that I am going to use his conenc­tion to cut red tape and not to cut any rule. So I am con­vinced and gath­ered courage to call him. He respond­ed very pos­i­tive­ly and asked me to see him with the required doc­u­ments.

I went to his office day before yes­ter­day to meet him. He was in mid­dle of a meet­ing with some oth­er offi­cers so I wait­ed out­side his office. I was still unsure of how to talk to him. He called me inside and direct­ly asked me what I want. I shame­less­ly told him that I want a BSNL 3G pre­paid SIM card. Then he said he can get it and asked me if I got the doc­u­ments and pho­tos with me. I said yes. Then he called one of his sub-ordi­nates to get me an appli­ca­tion. While I was fill­ing the appli­ca­tion, he made me com­fort­able and he asked me about what I do. I told him about me and I asked him what he does 🙂 He explained me what he does and we dis­cussed per­son­al and a lot of oth­er stuff includ­ing 2G spec­trum scam. He was head­ing one of the opti­cal fibre projects BSNL is exe­cut­ing for Indi­an Air Force. I fin­ished fill­ing appli­ca­tion and gave id proof, address proof and pho­to. His sub­or­di­nate took the docs asked me to wait. Mean­while he told me that he had to attend an impor­tant meet­ing and asked me to wait in his office. He offered me some­thing to eat or drink but I polite­ly denied. I wait­ed in his lav­ish and nice office play­ing Angry Birds. After about an hour, his sub-ordi­nate returned with the SIM. I paid Rs. 180. Rs 59 for the SIM and a manda­to­ry Rs.120 recharge which keeps the account active for 6 months.<i> Uncle</i> also came back in few min­utes after that. I thanked him and came out feel­ing hap­py and grate­ful with the SIM.

-Get­ting it work

That night I decid­ed to cut the SIM to turn it into a Micro-SIM. The cut­ting took lot of time as I was very cau­tious for I know I have to cut it right first time. Final­ly I cut it and insert­ed it into my iPhone. I felt relieved after see­ing my iPhone dis­play Cel­lOne. Then I called BSNL Cus­tomer Care to find the set­tings. They asked me to send SMS to a short num­ber. But it was not work­ing. After spend­ing some time I real­ized that the process is dif­fer­ent for iPhone. I sim­ply had to enter “bsnl­net” as APN. The process told by cus­tomer care is for oth­er phones. After set­ting APN, I got to see “E” but still I cant see “3G” on my phone. I thought that could be because my account does­n’t have bal­ance.

Yes­ter­day I decid­ed to recharge my account but get­ting a retail­er who does BSNL data recharge is not easy. I found one mobile recharge shop near my office but he was not under­stand­ing what I want. He said he can do it and was jump­ing to nor­mal min­utes recharge. He was clue­less when I told him I want­ed 3G data recharge. I came back to my desk and found that BSNL has a por­tal to do online recharge but I decid­ed to call Cus­tomer Care to find out if it real­ly works. Because they way it is designed is very unpro­fes­sion­al. It looks like a web­site of ear­li­er gen­er­a­tion. Cus­tomer Care right­ly warned me to stay away from it and request­ed me not to get them addi­tion­al work of pro­cess­ing my refund. They advised me to go to the near­est BSNL office for the recharge. So I had to go to BSNL office in Kora­man­gala BDA com­plex. There was a fight going on between an old man and the lady at the counter. The office is a typ­i­cal gov­ern­ment one with few employ­ees who are old and mid­dle aged. Thank­ful­ly the fight was set­tled soon and the lady start­ed serv­ing cus­tomers. The lady was nice and help­ful. I wait­ed for my turn and bought 500 MB data for Rs. 275 valid for 30 days. There is no vouchure to buy, which I thought I will buy one extra for next month. They will only recharge from their mobile. I thought of recharg­ing for some voice min­utes and asked for Rs. 25 to round off the bill. But she sug­gest­ed me to top up for Rs. 55 for which I get full talk time. The SIM was not in the phone dur­ing the recharge but the lady told me that it does­n’t pre­vent the account recharge. After going home I eager­ly insert­ed the SIM and still could­n’t find 3G. It was switch­ing to E. Then I tried call­ing Cus­tomer Care but could­n’t get the oper­a­tor to raise the com­plaint. Does that indi­cate some­thing 🙂 It is after all BSNL. So I decid­ed to call them in odd hours when they hope­ful­ly be free. I called them again this morn­ing imem­di­ate­ly out of bed after wak­ing up at 5:30 AM this morn­ing. I got the oper­a­tor in no time and he told that in some areas 3G is not avail­able yet. I was slight­ly dis­ap­point­ed. I don’t live in a sub­urb. I live well with­in the city. Even then I am not in 3G cov­er­age area. Any­way I decid­ed to check at office. I checked again in the bus stop while wait­ing for bus. Voila! I got 3G. Since then 3G is avail­able most­ly through­out my com­mute to office along out­er ring road and Hosur road in Ban­ga­lore. For some lit­tle time it switched to E. But most­ly 3G is avail­able. It is also avail­able at my office in Elec­tron­ic City.



At one point I noticed speeds of 1 Mbps for down­load and 0.45 Mbps for upload. I noticed 0.66 Mbps, 0.78 Mbps for down­load and 0.10 Mbps and 0.11 Mbps upload respec­tive­ly. I mea­sured teh speed using app for iPhone. I turned on maps nav­i­ga­tion. The map is updat­ing in real time as my bus trav­els. Down­loaded few apps from App Store and some books from iBooks Store. They got down­loaded very fast.


The price is very afford­able. Under 50 paise for 1 MB of 3G data. Com­pare this to Rs. 5 Voda­fone charges for 1 MB of EDGE data. Tata Doco­mo charges Rs. 500 for 500 MB of 3G data. Doco­mo offers 1000 local , nation­al and roam­ing min­utes as well but still data alone is expen­sive with them. There are no unlim­it­ed plans from any­body where­as BSNL offers 6 months unlim­it­ed data for Rs. 4200, which is very good. I dont expect afford­able rates in near future from any oth­er pri­vate oper­a­tors giv­en the mon­ey they shelled out to acquire 3G spec­trum.

Their voice plans are slighlty more than what pri­vate oper­a­tors offer. The default voice plan I am on costs 50 paise on same net­work and 70 paise for dif­fer­ent net­work, local and STD alike. I nev­er both­ered to check oth­er voice plans as I don’t intend to use this con­nec­tion for voice calls and SMS. I stick to my exist­ing Voda­fone pre­paid. Yes, I have to car­ry 2 phones now. I am ok because they both do 2 dif­fer­ent things bet­ter. Also this helps me to avoid pulling out my iPhone fre­quent­ly amidst the crowds and in pub­lic places. Basic Nokia for voice and SMS.iPhone for inter­net, games, apps, cam­era and books.


There is no doubt that BSNL has the best net­work cov­er­age in the coun­try and they are the first to roll out 3G.The sig­nal strength is very high. I see all 5 bars most­ly. But there are some catch­es. I could not get 3G when in home but that is ok as I can use Wi Fi. I am yet to check in oth­er places in Ban­ga­lore. For now I checked only in the route from my home to office which cov­ers out­er ring road and Hosur road and at my office in Elec­tron­ic City. The sig­nal strength is very good in these places.

Cus­tomer Care:

It is pathet­ic I must say. Not even a sin­gle thing they asked me to do worked. The only pos­si­bly cor­rect thing they told me is to stay away from online por­tal for recharg­ing. Some of them are not so knowl­edgable and are in hur­ry to end the call. Some peo­ple are polite though. The lady I met at BSNL office is very cor­dial and knowl­edgable.


The web­site is equal­ly pathet­ic. It is also very con­fus­ing. It has lot of details and too many con­fus­ing jar­gons like FRC, STV, C‑Topup etc etc. Online Rechare Por­tal is high­ly unus­able and is present only for the sake.

I faced tough time find­ing the dif­fer­ence between Recharge and Top-up. Final­ly under­stood that Recharge is for keep­ing account active. Top-up is to buy extra min­utes or data in case you run out them dur­ing active peri­od of the account.

Avail­abil­i­ty of recharge vouch­ers:

To buy any data vouch­ers I have to phys­i­cal­ly walk to BSNL office between 10 AM to 5 PM at least once a month to get any recharges or top ups done. The deal­er net­work is not wide­ly avail­able and those few deal­ers have no idea about data recharges. All they do is min­utes recharge.


Over­all, I feel lucky and hap­py to have got an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence 3G mobile tech­nol­o­gy which is still in its nascent stage in India. I under­stand the short­com­ings and am hap­py to live with them. I know that it will get bet­ter over time.

+ Supe­ri­or net­work and cov­er­age. IVR reads out a long list of Kar­nata­ka towns.

+ Being 3G, good speeds

+ Afford­able plans

- Avail­abil­i­ty of 3G SIM cards

- Bad cus­tomer ser­vice

- No online recharge option

- Near zero retail­er net­work

- Vis­it their office for any ser­vice

* I am not inter­est­ed in video call­ing fea­ture so I nev­er tried to explore for the depen­den­cies it has.

* I don’t watch tv at home let alone on my mobile. So Mobile Tv is also a strict no no for me. I nev­er explored it as well.



One response to “My experience with BSNL 3G in India”

  1. Thank you Chin­taya,

    Very good review about BSNL and it’s real­ly con­fus­ing , virus loaded , ads loaded un-pro­fes­sion­al web site though their cov­er­age & net­work is bet­ter than any oth­er mobile oper­a­tors.

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