How to Use an iPhone in India, or Why Vodafone Sucks

35 comments

How to Use an iPhone in India, or Why Vodafone Sucks

Buying a SIM in India is a tricky process. Since the attacks in Mumbai in 2008, the government has really clamped down on security and buying a SIM requires a fair amount of paperwork. Once you have your documents assembled, activating your SIM is easy and a couple of simple tricks will allow you to surf away on your iPhone.

Internet cafes are common and fairly cheap in India. Unfortunately, they aren’t terribly convenient — most are small and very crowded. Like sitting on an aisle seat in a plane, you’ll find yourself getting up and down several times to let other customers pass by. I’m doing a bit of freelance work while I travel, so I needed to be online during the late hours, after the cafes were closed. Tethering my iPhone to my laptop sounded like a perfect solution.

I bought my Vodafone SIM from a vendor on the street, but if I had it to do over again, I’d just go to a Vodafone Center and take care of everything there. Armed with copies of my passport and Indian visa, a receipt from my hotel, a passport photo and a wad of cash, I stopped by a small booth recommended by an Indian friend. I’d hoped to try a different provider, AirTel or one of the others, but all of the shops seemed to only offer Vodafone.

The SIM cost me 800 rupees in total ($20 US) — for that I got an active SIM and phone number and almost 500 rupees in credit. I was told that when first activating a SIM, the first 300 credits go to the government — I heard this from a few different shops, so I think it’s on the up-and-up. But you really never know…

After waiting twenty minutes, my SIM was able to make and receive calls but I couldn’t seem to activate the data plan — no email, web or App access. I downloaded several hacked Vodafone profiles and tinkered with all kinds of settings but nothing seemed to work. In the end, I took a cab ride to the Churchgate district, found a Vodafone center and had them sort me out.

The cost is 99 rupees per month (deducted from your balance) and then a charge per byte that you download.

The solution was an easy one: they simply texted ACT IPHONE to #144 to enroll me in the iPhone data plan. The cost is 99 rupees per month (deducted from your balance) and then a charge per byte that you download. I think the charge worked out to 1 rupee per 100k of data, but don’t hold me to that. Fairly cheap, so long as you don’t download music or video. Note that really cheap data plans are available, but don’t seem to work on the iPhone. Dammit.

After four hours, I received a message saying that my account was active, restarted my iPhone and was soon surfing the web on a fairly standard Edge network. While I was at the Vodafone shop, I learned about their new 3G Internet Stick, a USB modem that would (supposedly) allow me to surf from anywhere in the country from my laptop. The cost was 1,800 rupees (about $40) and that included a month of unlimited data. Future months were 600 rupees for unlimited, or 400 rupees for 2GB.

Normally, I would have waited on a purchase like this so that I’d have time to do a little online research, but I was leaving Bombay the following day and didn’t really want to ride all the way over here again to pick one up. After asking “3G speed all over India? Really?” one more time, I was assured that yes, indeed, I would be a mover and a shaker on India’s hi-speed interwebs. I went for it.

This required completing another application for a SIM, complete with passport copies and using up my last available passport photo. Twenty minutes and forty dollars later, I walked out with a 3G modem that would be active in four hours.

Vodafone doesn’t actually have a 3G network in India. The “3G” is merely a name, a bit of marketing fornication.

Except that it wasn’t a 3G modem. I soon found that Vodafone doesn’t actually have a 3G network in India — yet. The “3G” is merely a name, a bit of marketing fornication. The USB stick would gladly link up in any location, but it connected to a Edge network that tops out at 17k per second. Dial-up speed.

I’d get exactly the same service simply tethering my phone to the laptop — the USB stick was a waste of money.

How to Use an iPhone in India, or Why Vodafone SucksThere was one last hurdle to cross: every Vodafone SIM is automatically enrolled in a ‘service’ called “Flash!”. Once you activate your phone, annoying trivia questions will pop up every two minutes, filling the screen with a question (sometimes in Hindi) and big red ‘Cancel’ and ‘Yes’ buttons. If you accidentally hit ‘Yes’, you’re charged 3 rupees. Hitting ‘Cancel’ resets a timer and two minutes later you find yourself staring at another inane question. Seriously? This is a ‘service’?

Now, if I had a Vodafone handset, this is an easy fix — simply go to the Vodafone menu and turn off the feature. But I had no menu and thus, no way to turn it off. Within the first day, I noticed that my battery was dying very quickly from all of the stupid pop-ups and I was about to lose my mind trying to figure out how to turn it off.

Then, The Google led me to Vishal Anand’s blog and saved my sanity. To turn off this damnable ‘feature’, go to Settings / Phone / SIM Applications / Flash!. Select Flash!, click on Activation, then click Deactivate.

I can now surf and read email in peace. The minutes go pretty quickly if I tether the phone or surf non-mobile-optimized sites. I easily burned through 400 credits in a week, and that was while using the USB as my primary connection (hey, it’s paid for).

I may get around to trying another provider in a month or so. I’ve heard that AirTel and a couple of others offer true 3G. I’ll let you know how it works out. But for now, enjoy your iPhone in India. Just stay away from those graphics-heavy sites.

35 comments on “How to Use an iPhone in India, or Why Vodafone Sucks

  1. Why do they charge monthly if they also charging for download bytes . I think now when vodafone is launching 3G , they must think about unlimited download like nokia did in new music phone .
    .-= Atulperx´s last blog ..25 Free and Amazing Dingbats Fonts =-.

  2. If you’re planning on going to Africa, you can use your Vodaphone USB modem throughout South Africa and Namibia. In most major cities in South Africa, you can get 3G access . . . which is important because there is a dearth of cheap or free internet cafes or hostel WiFi throughout South Africa.

    Actually, it sounds like it’s easier to get a cell phone right now in India than it used to be. My dad got a SIM card in India when we were there in 2004 and it was the biggest hassle ever. It took him over 6 hours at two different Vodacom shops and that was with him speaking Tamil.
    .-= Akila´s last blog ..jiaozi chinese dumplings =-.

  3. How late does the internet cafe open to? There’s no wifi at the place ur staying at? $20 for SIM doesn’t sound too bad, but seems liike alot paper work to go through.

    • The cafes seem to close around 8 or 9pm. Which is about the time my clients in the US are arriving at work, so it helps if I can log on around midnight, etc.

      I haven’t seen much wifi so far. The hotel I’m staying at now in Pushkar has wifi, but you have to track your time and pay by the hour (probably cheap, but I haven’t asked).

      The paperwork is a hassle, but there’s no way around it alas…

  4. I’ll be moving to India in the new year to volunteer for a year and have been wondering if my iPhone would work there, what the connection process would be, cost….Thank you for sharing! Very informative and I’ll dfiniteoy be bookmarking this post.

  5. If you are going to India and require actually high speed internet,
    then try Reliance NetConnect or Tata Indicom Mobile Internet.

    Those are actual high speed internet providing upto 3.1MBPS wirelessly.

    But always check every detail about the package you choose.

    Most High Speed Internet Provider boast of Unlimited Plan but you will always find a small (*) somewhere in plan which will lead to Fair Usage Policy which will say that your unlimited plans ends when you go beyond 10GB Data Transfer.

    Regards
    Tajim
    .-= Tajim´s last blog ..What a Shame!!!! =-.

  6. Great tips, as usual my man. Ooh, sad that you threw the dough on the USB stick.
    .-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..What Your Big Sister Never Told You About Travel =-.

  7. Thanks for writing such an in-depth post about this. I will definitely refer back to this before I visit India.
    .-= Christy – Ordinary Traveler´s last blog ..Photo of the Week- Jellies in Motion =-.

  8. Heard too many bad things about Vodaphone and i would never sign up to them. Surely signing up to a local supplier would of been cheaper and easier?
    .-= Natalie – Turkish Travel´s last blog ..Turkish Night Tacky Or Tasteful =-.

  9. Angad Singh on said:

    Whe I got my iPhone I was using vadofone…. It took people at Vodafone 2months when they could actually get me GPRS on my phone…. They are dum people and have no idea What they sell… Vodafone indirectly discourages people to get the iPhone… The monthly cost of GPRS is atleast 200Rs a month and just a little email a little facebook will cost me 700Rs in addition to that 200Rs…. It was a waste of money so I left Vodafone and got aircel… It gives unlmited GPRS in just 100Rs a month but no Mms and poor signal strength…. I also used Airtel… It’s got good signal strength good GPRS plans but expensive call rate and nothing for people who want STD call plans…

  10. Tom G Alex on said:

    Well I am using Vodafone at present and i did not had to pay extra at all.

    It costs me 99 Rs(1.20 GBP) and gives me 2 GB EDGE connectivity.What i did was used profile settings from unlockit.co.nz

  11. Very interesting. Don’t you hate when you get scammed by the stupidest things? 3g marketing- that is priceless. Well hopefully you will find out about another brand and can get it all squared away. Good luck!
    .-= Bethany´s last blog ..6 Tips for renting a car in Iceland =-.

  12. Knowing the correct company India to use can help a lot. The best and only company you should get the modem from is BNSL and the 3G is fast. I just received my USB Modem hassle free.

    You need to visit the BNSL Main Office to accomplish the purchase.
    Shawn recently posted..G3 USB Mobile Broadband Internet in the Pocket for IndiaMy Profile

    • Thanks for the tip, Shawn! I’ll look into that next time I’m in a big city. The Vodafone stick turned out to be *very* unreliable, dropping connection and refusing to work for hours at a time.

  13. One thing i can’t believe is that u had to shell out 800 bucks for the SIM. It is available free of cost with atleast 100 free credits. In Delhi atleast.

  14. it’s Very Important.

  15. Its not as tricky as you mention Mr. author.
    Vishal recently posted..Friends are like that!My Profile

  16. I just wanted to vouch for the trickiness that is when getting a sim in India as a foreigner. ÜBER-tricky! Especially in Bangalore where there is less tourism so the hotel receipt doesn’t work- instead you need to bring in an apartment lease document with the official raised seal, passport and visa, 2 passport photos, and some official resistration doc that you get at the police station, (they are willing to let that last one slide though). Plus, you need to fill out a Loooong form on which you are disallowed to scratch something out if u mess up, as I did, and are asked to complete an entirely new form (which I did 3 times!!) Additionally, you better sign the documents on your apartment lease, passport, and sim application with the exact same signature (as in don’t use an initial on one and then full name on another) or you will face a lot of beuracracy in the office as to which signature should be used when you sign the application form (which you must sign exactly as your other signature on 6 pages.)
    Anyway, yes, for foriegners at least it’s a very tricky process

  17. Wes, I’m hoping to find a solution that might help me connect my MacAir to the internet at schools where they do not have access. But, I’m also hoping that there is some type of air card that I can purchase that might work in countries throughout Asia & AFrica. Is this at all possible, or am I dreaming too big?

    Thanks!

    • Oooh, that is a bit of a dream, I suspect. I have no experience in Africa yet, but from what I’ve seen in Asia and central america so far, each country has 2-3 providers and they vary from country to country. I used Tigo in Laos and I see them here in Guatemala. Similarly, I use the Vodaphone USB stick in India and have now found that they’re common here. So you might be able to reuse SIMs as you move around, but without going for an expensive satellite phone, I don’t think you’re going to find a one-card solution. Sorry :(

  18. Thanks, Wes. I have an iPhone4 that can’t yet be jailbroken, but went with purchasing a Gevey card that will work with all local cards. Working well here in Cambodia. Would be amazing if someone developed a universal USB stick!

  19. sandhya on said:

    I just bought an unlocked iphone and was looking for a good 3G plan. These posts are slightly discouraging to say the least but they are a little old and i hope things have changed now… hopefully since more providers of 3G have come up, the prices are a lot more competitive and so is the service.
    I use a USB stick internet for my laptop – from MTS which turned out to be a great plan since they are not nearly as established as the big wigs Airtel, Vodafone, Tata so their customer service is excellent( i’ve had a good experience so far).
    I just want to make a similar decision for my phone. I really don’t care for Tata- they are major swindlers, customer service is pathetic and just keep increasing rates without informing ( experience i had was with tata’s dth home service-tata sky- utter rubbish service and ever increasing prices , diminishing channels – NOT recommended)

    any clue on what’s new and nice for the iphone?

  20. Hi Sandhya,
    I ended up going with Airtell in Varanasi. I get 4gigs of 3G data. The system is very confusing, but I can tell you what works for me: Each month I go to the street vendor guy and say “add 750rs to my Free Data Account and 444rs for talking” that usually sets me up for the month. Adding any other number can screw up the plan. Good luck!

    • sandhya on said:

      Hi Eve,
      Thanks for the reply!
      Over a thousand bucks a month? wow… i wasn’t expecting to have to be ok with that! hehehee
      I guess one the problems is 3G connectivity. being from mumbai and using the phone here, i hope it’s better…

  21. Clayton on said:

    What about a 3G Sim for my iphone that i can use whilst visiting for 3 weeks? possible?

    • It’s been a year since I was in India so I don’t know if they’ve upgraded their 3g network. When I was there it was nonexistent. A SIM is easily available — not sure about speeds. Go to a Vodaphone shop — don’t bother with the small shops on the street. And expect a lot of red tape — you’ll need passport, photos and a receipt from your hotel.

  22. sandhya on said:

    allright. so i ended up going with vodafone. despite warnings from almost everyone that it takes 72 hrs to activate no matter what they say, i thought my case would be different. it is not. it’s been 4 days since i went down to the walk in vodafone gallery and submitted all docs and bought the SIM and my phone is still not activated.
    sure the guy at the place gave nX100 reasons why it is not. net net, with vodafone, 4 days for activation is minimum( for iphone atleast) -that’s if my phone gets activated atleast today.
    so right now, i am just using my phone as ipod.

  23. Ok now here’s a question. Every time my phone downloads data, I get a pop up just like the flash messages which tells me how much of my balance was used and how much is remaining. And if my phone is in my pocket when that happens and I don’t notice the message, it stays there till I hit ok and drains my battery in no time. How do you get rid of that?

    • Try looking in your settings — the SIM itself may have options. I had an annoying trivia game that popped up and did the same — that’s where I was able to turn it off.

  24. Abudi on said:

    This is wrong. Why is this showing up so high on the search results? This information is outdated, and I use Vodafone 3g and get speeds that tops 3.8mbps max.

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