24 November, 2020

Distress Signals

High airtime charges impede the cellular revolution in India

Distress Signals

Despite all the hype and hoopla, the mobile telephone revolution in India has got off to a grindingly slow start. In the four metros, where cellular services were launched with great fanfare, demand is sluggish. Calcutta has only around 1,000 subscribers; Madras a pitiful 200-odd. Total for the four metros: barely 10,000.

The culprits: the cost of a handset, between Rs 20,000 and Rs 50,000, as well as high airtime charges, Rs 2.80 per 10 seconds at peak time, Rs 1.40 during standard hours and 70 paise for non-peak hours (incoming calls are also charged at the same rate). For long-distance calls, mobile phone users have to shell out standard MTNL/VSNL charges too. “The prices may not fall in the immediate future,” admits Niren Hiro, marketing manager of BPL, which has launched its service in Bombay. “But it will come down eventually. The trend here will follow worldwide trends.”

Strangely enough, operators would rather wait for the Government to dole out duty concessions to bail them out of low demand trap, rather than...



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