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Making each paisa count

Priyanka Joshi & Sayantani Kar  |  Mumbai 

While pay-per-second tariff plans seem attractive, there’s a lot you need to know before switching over.

Operator What you pay What you get The fine print
Vodafone 1 p/second
(pre-paid customers only) 
Local & STD call rates 1.2 p/second  
for off-net calls and 
1 p/sec for on-net calls #
Must buy a bonus card priced between Rs 50 and Rs 70 to avail 
per-second tariff This card is valid for a year only
Airtel  For pre-paid: Rs 58 for 
the per-second plan (includes  
Rs 50 worth talktime) 

For post-paid: Rentals 
start at Rs 200 
1 p/sec for on-net calls and
1.2 p/sec for off-net calls
Pre-paid recharge card valid for a year;local SMS rates of Re 1 and national SMS at Rs 1.20 Post-paid users get 50 p for local SMS 
and 60 p for national. Also, up to three hours of free local calls and 150 local SMS
Aircel  For pre-paid: Entry charges 
begin at Rs 49 
(does not include talktime)
Flat rate of 1 p/sec for local & 
STD calls across networks 
STD at 1 p/sec applicable up to first eight hours only, after that 2 p/sec to any network Existing users can switch plans by calling a toll-free number
Tata DoCoMo For pre-paid: Rs 49 to avail 
of the per-second plan 
(does not include talktime) 
For post-paid: Rentals start 
at Rs 299 
Local & STD call rates 1 p/sec  STD calls at 1 p/sec for approx 7.5 hours every month, post that STD
calls will be charged 2 p/sec 
For post-paid rental plans of Rs 799 
and Rs 1,099, users pay 1 p per 2 
seconds for local calls, STD stays at 1 p/sec Free 150 min for local calls, 50 min for STD calls, 500 local SMS 
(freebies increase with rentals) 
Reliance 1 p/sec plan; 50 p/minute
plan (both pre-paid and 
post-paid customers 
across all 22 circles) 
Flat rate for all calls i.e. 1 p/sec for  
1 p/sec plan or 50 p/min for 50 p/min
plan across networks
Even roaming calls will cost 1 p/sec or 
50 p/min depending on the plan
New users can start at as low as Rs 60 to subscribe to new tariff plans 
Existing users need to call Reliance 
customer care to switch to these plans 
at no extra cost
BSNL  1 p/sec call rates 
(for pre-paid customers only) 
Local & STD calls at 1 p/sec on own
network and 1.2 p/sec on other networks 
Required to buy a recharge card for  
Rs 45 to avail the per-second plan 
The card gives tariff validity for a year only 
Idea Call rates 1 p/sec
(pre-paid customers only)
Both local & STD calls across networks 
cost 1 p/sec
Requires a recharge card of Rs 49
The card gives tariff validity for a year First 3 local SMSes at 60p, next 100 local SMS free and national SMS Rs 1.20
#On-net: On the operator’s network; Off-net: From operator’s network to other  Note: Tariffs and rentals might vary depending on circles 

operators launching pay-per-second tariff plans is possibly the best news for the country’s users in recent times. While these promise to bring down your telecom tariffs by a huge margin, you need to look at the fine-print before switching over.

Are pay-per second plans for everyone?
Not really. Most operators have introduced per-second tariffs for only pre-paid subscribers. And, you may have to forgo the freebies that come with other plans.

As Ernst and Young’s Telecom Head, Prashant Singhal, says, “There is an obvious benefit in per-second billing, but the question is how much? We already had plans, such as the 50-paise-per-minute ones, that cost less than 1 paisa per second. These work out cheaper for those who make longer calls.”

Since telecom operators will get less money per subscriber under such plans, these are being launched reluctantly and in specific circles. With the number of operators in most telecom circles touching 10, per-second billing has worked wonders for new operators like Tata DoCoMo, who can use the price difference to attract new subscribers.

So, if you are a post-paid subscriber, will it make sense to switch to per-second plans? The answer lies in your usage pattern. While your monthly bill might come down by 15 per cent, you will miss the special promotional services offered by other tariff plans.

Hidden costs in per-second plans
The devil lies in the detail and Agnel D’Souza, a Goa-based civil engineer, understands it well. He was among the early users of Aircel’s Hungama Offer that promised him a rock-bottom rate of one-paisa-per-second for both local and STD calls. “My clients are spread across Maharashtra and so it made sense for me to switch to a per-second plan,” he says.

For people like D’Souza, per-second plans are not only about saving a couple of hundred rupees on monthly bills but also about paying for what they get. “Most of my STD calls lasted more than 60 seconds and involved detailed checks with contractors in Mumbai,” he says. But what D’Souza did not notice was the fine-print. “I came to know that the one-paisa rate was applicable for first 10,000 seconds (a little over 2.5 hours) in case of STD calls. After that, I had to pay pay two paise per second,” he says.

Older players such as Idea and Reliance are also in the race and have introduced tariffs competitive with one-paisa-per-second plans to underline that for those who tend to talk longer per call (such as those conducting businesses over phones), paying one-paisa-per-second could work out to be more costly. Idea is encouraging visitors to its website to choose plans based on usage — for shorter calls, it suggests its one-paisa-per-second plan, but for longer ones, it recommends the 40-paise-per-minute plan (which amounts to 1.5-paise-per-second, though it’s not billed this way).

If you travel a lot, make sure that you are aware of the roaming costs since most one-paisa plans do not apply here. The only exception is Reliance, which has dropped roaming charges under its one-paisa plan.

Features they don’t tell you
Mumbai-based Aneesh Palekar, who opted for a Tata DoCoMo connection three months ago, has been able to bring down his monthly bill from Rs 1,800 to Rs 1,200 due to the operator’s one-paisa-per-call offer and the free local SMSes that he gets under it. But Palekar is not without his share of grievances. A reduced bill, he feels, cannot compensate for a bad network. He complains, “Getting signals, even in city areas, can be trying.” The rush due to these new offers, say experts, has put pressure on networks of new entrants. As a result, networks are clogged and call-drop rates are on the rise.

Some operators are also trying to make up for lower call rates by keeping SMS prices higher. For example, Airtel charges Re 1 for local SMSes and Rs 1.50 for national ones.

First Published: Mon, November 16 2009. 00:39 IST