Though many might disagree, Airtel expectedly feels that its 3G data plans are fairly reasonable. At Convergence India last week, on the apparently high 3G pricing in India, Bharti Enterprises’ Deputy Group CEO and MD Akhil Gupta said, like many have said at many conferences, that wireless is the only way for broadband to reach out to the masses. However, when MediaNama asked him why Airtel’s 3G data pricing was anything but mass oriented, he replied that the company does not want to go the AT&T way, offering ‘all you can eat’ data plans in the beginning and enforcing data caps when its networks get choked. 3G spectrum, Gupta said, is scarce and the majority of 3G handsets in India are non-HSPA handsets which are less data efficient. So, if pricing was not done rationally, it could lead to choking of bandwidth.

That begs the question: how will wireless and specifically 3G drive internet penetration in the country when telcos price it at a premium citing spectrum constraints. At more than Rs15 per MB under the default plan, Airtel’s 3G tariffs are anything but reasonable. Even if a subscriber opts for a data plan with bundled usage, it is a lot more costlier compared to the Airtel’s Edge data plans. For example, Airtel sells 2GB bundled Edge data pack for Rs 98, while a 2GB data pack on 3G costs Rs 750, more than seven times costlier.

Poor Connectivity Issues

While Airtel had claimed that it has installed 1800 3G cell sites in Delhi for optimum coverage, a lot of users are complaining about network quality. I’ve faced problems like erratic 3G data and voice connectivity. Even after paying a premium for 3G data, the signal shuttles between Edge and 3G. Complaints did not make much of a difference as Airtel says that its network team is working on the issue. Some users also reported that the company activated their 3G services without consent(at 2G tariffs). Customer care execs at Airtel are advising them to switch to 2G only network mode to overcome poor connectivity.

Nikhil adds: I’ve noticed a significant decline in GPRS/EDGE connectivity in several parts of Delhi, including Bharti Airtel’s corporate office Vasant Kunj a couple of weeks ago. The number of call drops, and instances of network unavailability in Delhi has increased significantly. This, when Airtel launched 3G in the city claiming that they took time to launch,  in order to ensure that there aren’t connectivity issues.