Airtel, at my place, charges Rs. 750 INR [~$ 15 USD]1 for 4 GB of data transfer over the 3G network, using my handset, that I must use up in 1 month. This comes out to around Rs. 187.5 [~$3.76] per GB. Yesterday, instead of going to the quasi-official 'Airtel Relationship Centre' to recharge my pre-paid account balance, I dropped in by this hole-in-the-wall kind of outlet on the way for my nightly run. In addition to my voice call recharge, I also asked to recharge my Internet account balance. There, the attendant suggested me this wonderful data plan that has brought down my 3G tariff rate to just around Rs. 83 [~$ 1.67] per GB, a 125% reduction in my monthly Internet bill!
Airtel, as he showed me, has introduced these pre-paid SIM cards that are to be used along with Tablet PCs for Internet access. Since one does not normally use a Tablet to make a voice call [many don't even allow it], voice calls have been disabled on these SIMs. Thus, these SIM cards are used purely for Web-related activities. He charged me Rs. 250 [~$ 5] for the SIM, using which I now get to use up to 3 GB of Internet data, that has a 1 month validity. At the end of one month, or after you've used up the data [whichever is earlier], simply throw away the card & insert a similar new SIM.
As can be calculated, if I were to use 4 GB of data using such a SIM, it would just come to around Rs. 333 [~$6.7] instead of the 750 bucks I'd normally have to shell out in the conventional plan - a monthly saving of Rs. 416 [~$8.3]. Ain't it cool, hain?!
So, when at home, all I do is take out my normal SIM [voice+data] & insert this one, tether it to my computer & start surfing the 'Interwebs' at 3G speeds, without burning as big a hole in the pocket as earlier. Alternately, you could also buy a low-cost carrier-independent 3G-capable data card [Micromax, Lava-types] & insert this SIM into it for Net access. Considering the money you would save each month on your Internet bill, you will have easily recovered the cost of the data card purchase, within a few months time.
Such an arrangement works out fine with me. I surf the web [non-multimedia, for most parts] on the 3G network, & enqueue all downloads for a later time. Then, once I've finished surfing & am no longer required to sit in front of the terminal, I untether my cell & switch over to the slow, albeit unmetered connection for completing the download. This arrangement would bring my monthly Internet charge to Rs 1120 [~$ 22.5] - very economical, I think.
Although, 250 bucks is a dirt cheap price to pay for connectivity, one may be able to bring down the price even further. This is because, while I paid 250 bucks & received a message saying around 3250 MB of data was debited to my account, the recharge SMS indicated that only Rs. 91 [$ 1.82] had been paid, meaning the outlet pocketed Rs. 159 [$ 3.19], more than the price of the actual charge itself! Not knowing of this offer earlier, I got taken in by the price quoted by him - won't happen next time2, though. I guess Rs. 150 [$ 3] would, therefore, be a fair price at which to buy the SIM.
I find this Airtel offer & the disparity in tariff very strange, but not complaining at all - laughing my way, saving money. Though, one never knows when Mittalji would stop offering this plan, much like BSNL's 6 months of unlimited 3G at Rs. 700 [~$14] per month offer a few years back - Carpe Diem!
What, on the other hand, concerns me a great deal is the lax manner in which these SIM cards are sold. As I intended simply to recharge my existing SIM, I had with me no documents needed to acquire a new SIM. In spite of this, I was able to buy it on the assurance that I would bring him the papers & a photograph the next day [today]. Though he noted down my cell number, he did nothing to confirm its genuineness - for all you know, I may have simply given him a fictitious number [I did not]. Living in a country, or for that matter in a world, save for may be Bhutan <32, with a threat perception as strong & security situation as precarious as ours, this devil-may-care attitude towards such transactions certainly does nothing to offer any reassurance to the citizen of a country, that is at the cross-hair & repeated victim of jihadi terrorism.
1 = Assuming $1 USD = Rs. 49.8 INR