3G in the fast lane

Despite the initial flurry of activity, third generation bandwidth services are taking their time to launch. Here are some data plans to get you started.

Sam Abraham        Print Edition: February 2011

The furore over third generation bandwidth services seems to be dying down without truly taking off. As telecom firms wade through regulations and concentrate on number portability, many people are getting impatient for the next big thing, especially the promise of faster Net connectivity.

The current crop of wireless Internet devices has been disappointing for those who are constantly on the move or access the Net regularly. Slow speeds and lack of connectivity often interrupt connections. In contrast, 3G promises a maximum speed of 21.6 Mbps. Even if the speeds are a fraction of this limit, we're still looking at an incredible pace.

With a government ban on video calls, a 3G data card is just as exciting as the telecom services the new bandwidth has to offer. Though not all major companies have released their tariffs as yet, they are all gearing up to do so. So we may not be able to spread out a full buffet at present, but we hope to satiate your appetite.

Docomo has a unique plug-and-play USB device that promises speeds up to 21 Mbps and also doubles up as a 32 GB flash drive. All the plans have unlimited download. However, the speed reduces after a fixed limit. For instance, if you pay a monthly rent of Rs 1,500, the speed will reduce to 128 Kbps after you have downloaded 10 GB data. The national roaming charge off-net is 10 paise per 10 KB. Prepaid offers are the same as postpaid, but only speeds up to 7.2 Mbps will be available with a validity of 30 days for all plans.

Vodafone's plug-and-use device requires you to download a software and an update patch. The company professes 3G speeds but has not yet mentioned a concrete number. The SIM, which is inserted in the device, supports SMS services, while the device can support a MicroSD card up to 2 GB. Apart from this, an EDGE data card is also available. The charges are similar to the USB device but only two plans (500 MB and 1 GB) are available. Alternatively, call and SMS services are supported by the device. However, the initial cost of Rs 6,499 makes it expensive.

Plans from Reliance are a bit more expensive than those from other telecom firms. However, they offer more flexibility with 10 plans for data usage, from 100 MB to 21 GB, for both prepaid and postpaid customers. Unfortunately, they don't have an unlimited plan. Customers will have to pay 2 paise for every extra 10 KB, which could end up being quite expensive. A pay-as-you-go plan with a 3-month validity is also available at 10 paise per 10 KB.

The 3G NetSetter device supports speeds up to 3.6 Mbps on the HSDPA network and is compatible on the company's EDGE/GPRS network. Services are yet to be launched but the device is compatible with 3G and you can switch once their plans are launched. A good reason to buy the device would be its price. At Rs 1,600 it is the cheapest of all devices that are on offer currently.

Airtel has also not released their tariffs yet, though they intend to release a device with wireless connectivity and speeds up to 7.2 Mbps. The device will be a plug-and-play that will automatically download the required software on your computer to initiate browsing. They are also offering expandable memory through a MicroSD card slot. It also supports HSDPA technology.

BSNL is the oldest player in the 3G arena and has very competitive prices. Postpaid connections are always better if you use the Internet profusely. Watching videos online, Internet radio or TV and frequent downloading means a limit of 1 GB or 2 GB will be woefully inadequate. Instead, go for an unlimited plan or one that has a 10 GB limit.

If you use the Net predominantly in the night, opt for the Rs 549 plan, which has a 5 GB limit between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and a 1 GB limit during the day. The company usually has a promotional offer going on. The last one, which ended on 20 December 2010, discounted monthly rents. So ask specifically for offers even if you aren't told about one upfront.

Also, free data usage is available while on roaming. In case of prepaid plans, data charges beyond the free usage will be deducted from the available balance in the account. As 3G top-up vouchers and short-term validity recharges are available, maintaining a balance shouldn't be a problem.

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