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All about 'incoming free for life' mobile plans
Manu A B in Mumbai | January 16, 2006
'Incoming free for lifetime' is the latest mantra of telecom service providers in India. The launch of prepaid cards with lifetime validity for incoming calls is just another attempt to chain customers to a single service provider for life!
In India, about 78 per cent of the mobile users are prepaid cardholders and this segment is growing at a very fast pace. And telecom operators are now wooing this segment with newer offers.
According to operators, the advantage of this scheme is that a prepaid user can continue to receive incoming calls 'for life' even after the recharge period is over, as against the current system of restricted validity, based on the value of the recharge package.
But will the user actually get incoming calls 'free for life'? Or is there a catch?
Well, this move by the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) service providers is close on the heels of the 'Non-Stop Mobile' scheme launched by Tata Teleservices recently, which allows a customer to receive calls for two years without buying a recharge voucher. This scheme has turned out to be a big hit.
New users are often attracted to the longest validity period offers and these schemes aim to hook a good majority of new subscribers.
Meanwhile, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India officials have raised several doubts on the viability of these schemes. Trai officials would be examining all the aspects of the schemes and would take necessary steps if required. Trai has sought details on the lifetime validity schemes from all the service providers.
At a meeting held on January 12, Trai said that lifetime validity tariff plans raise the following issues:
What will happen to the plans if the traffic patterns and Interconnect User Charges regime changes substantially, and the matter of protection of interest of consumers who are subscribing to the lifetime tariff plan.
Trai expects the final decision in this regard would be taken by February 2006.
So what does 'incoming free for lifetime' actually mean?
First and foremost, it is not 'free for life' as all the service providers specify that the user must recharge every six months to stay mobile! And more importantly, every call you make will be more expensive than the normal prepaid call charge. So there goes the 'free' claim out of the window.
Here's a look at the various plans on offer.
The Airtel offer
Airtel was the first to announce the lifetime validity for incoming calls scheme from among the GSM players. An Airtel mobile user will have to pay Rs 999 to avail of the new scheme, following which the user can receive incoming calls 'free for a lifetime' on the condition that the user recharges the card once every 6 months.
The call charges are much higher than normal charges.
According to Airtel, the lifetime prepaid card also offers the user full talk time on every future recharge of any denomination (service tax is of course deducted on cards of any value). The call rates are Rs 1.99 for all local calls and Rs 2.99 for all STD calls.
Hutch's Chalta Rahe
Hutch's lifetime card matches the Airtel rate of Rs 999.
The calls charges are at par with Airtel. The rates are: Rs 1.99/minute for all local calls and Rs 2.99/minute for all STD calls. This card of Rs 999 gives you a talk time of just Rs 25. Hutch also offers full talk time on all future recharges and but customers will need to recharge with at least a minimum available recharge of Rs 10 once every 6 months to stay mobile.
This is what the Hutch Website states:
MTNL's Jeevan Sathi
Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd's Jeevan Sathi is available for Rs 900. While the card costs Rs 900, the talk time value is only Rs 100. However, MTNL promises full talk time on future recharge.
'Full talk time' is another misnomer. Taxes are always deducted from even the Rs 10 'chhota' recharge of Hutch!
MTNL has also introduced a recharge card of Rs 2,650 with three-year validity in the same segment. The call charges of Rs 2,650 recharge coupon are 90 paise a minute for a local call within MTNL GSM network (Trump-to-Trump or Dolphin) and for all mobile other networks, it is Rs 1.50 and STD at Rs 2.40 a minute across the networks.
Idea Cellular's lifelong offer
Idea Cellular has taken the validity card scheme to the post-paid subscribers as well. Under its lifelong offer, postpaid customers will not have to pay any monthly rental for life, this can be availed by just paying a one-time amount of Rs 995 and prepaid customers can avail lifelong validity on a recharge of Rs 995 and get Rs 25 talk time.
It will charge 99 paise per minute for mobile-to-mobile local calls, 99 paise per 30 seconds for other local and STD calls, it said.
Under the prepaid lifelong tariff, the company will charge Rs 1.99 for calls for one minute, while STD calls would be charged Rs 2.99 paise per minute, it said.
Idea Cellular has also introduced 'I-Power prepaid vouchers' under two schemes, with one package offering a three-year validity and a talk time of Rs 150 for Rs 2,999, and the other offering a 2-year validity and a talk time of Rs 100 for Rs 1,199.
Reliance Infocomm's lifetime gift
The lifetime validity prepaid voucher costs Rs 995. This has a talk time of Rs 50. The user will have the option to choose a range of prepaid vouchers and tariff plans as per his requirement.
If the user expects high outgoing calls in a particular month, he can use Rs 430 voucher and get the benefit of lower calling rates (Rs 430 voucher offers night calling to another RIM number for free and day calling at 40 paise per minute within the state), according to the company statement.
Recharge coupons are available from Rs 10 and the calls are charged at Rs 1.99 for a local call and Rs 2.99 for all other calls in India. Also on offer is a 'Marathon SMS Pack' worth Rs 180, through which 18,000 SMSes can be sent over six months.
Wait till February
Essentially, the schemes by all the companies are valid only if the user recharges once in six months. With Trai raising doubts over the viability of these plans, it would be wise to wait till the final verdict is out in February. It is also advisable to seek detailed information on any scheme before going for it.
Ideally, customers have to calculate how much money they spend on the calls on monthly basis now and how many recharges they need in a month and compare the call rates, before they go for a lifetime scheme. So the choice is between high rates and being with the same provider for life or flexibility of choosing the recharge coupons depending upon his/her need.
While the prepaid users are free to make their choice, the ambiguous lifetime plans will also curb their freedom.
As the competition grows, companies will launch many innovative offers. Exciting times are ahead for customers considering BSNL's offer to cut STD rates by about 70 per cent and the introduction of OneIndia tariff (uniform tariff across India) this year. So here's looking forward to talking for a lifetime without worrying about the bills!