Monday, April 25, 2011

BSNL 3G - An Exercise in Frustration

A few days ago, I was taken in by a BSNL campaign and purchased a 3G data-card which promised high-speed (7.2 Mbps), value-for-money Internet connectivity. It has been a disappointment.

The promise of high speed has remained just that - a promise.

I had initially shortlisted three service providers, after consulting folks (I thought) who knew better - Tata-Docomo, Reliance and BSNL. All three provided 3G services but I was told that the first two - Tata and Reliance - offered this service only on a CDMA platform whereas BSNL had it on the more widely used GSM platform. I wanted a connection that could be used throughout India and BSNL, with its huge, government-backed infrastructure seemed like a logical choice.


The first thing you notice about BSNL is that they offer no brochures or instruction pamphlets to its potential customers. The basket of services on offer keeps changing so frequently that sales personnel themselves are unclear about what they are selling. They have clearly laid out procedures for giving out connections (application, id proof & address proof) and in exchange for the fees (R 2500+) you get a data-card, helpline number (1503) and a verbal assurance that the service would be activated by 4:00 PM the same day.


The actual activation took more then three days. At the promised 4:00PM, the customer service officers (CSO's) at the helpline number 1503 said that I had been misinformed by the sales personnel - actual activation would take 24 hours. After 24 hours they said new connections take 24-48 hours, and after 48 hours they informed me that the connection had been activated but would work only if I purchased a "recharge" for more than R50.

What about the 500MB data that was supposed to come free with a new connection? Sorry, you were misinformed.


Neither sending nor receiving speed ever exceeds 100 KBps - at least in Trivandrum, Kerala.

Here is what R. Dinakaran writes about this issue in the Hindu Business Line (16 May 2011):
Another operator attracts customers by advertising speeds of 7.2 MBPS. When a potential customer wanted to test the speed at the operator's demo zone, he was informed that the services were still not ‘stable' and that he would get speeds of only around 3 MBPS. The speed test revealed the real speed — it never crossed 2.2 MBPS!


"Thank you for calling BSNL 3G Broadband Services...Your are in Q...your estimated hold-time is one minute...".

The first time I called 1503, a monotonous, deadpan voice went on repeating this message for 10 minutes before the call was finally picked up by a customer service officer (CSO). The wait may have been worthwhile if the problem got resolved, but it didn't.

Most CSO's were found to be inconsistent, evasive, and quite unhelpful. The only exception was a lady named Sunita. All other CSO's have this uncanny ability to cut the call whenever you ask them to explain something. At the customer help-desk at the BSNL office Statue, Trivandrum, the youngsters were found to be especially cocky and rude.

Some samples of red herrings from BSNL Customer Support Officers-
  • A call to *123# is returned with an SMS giving you data usage status but since it did not contain the updated validity period, I asked a CSO. Their reply - "Just send a message 'DATA3G' to 53733 for this information". The reply from 53733? - "This option is not available on your mobile number. Pl dial *123# to check details"!!


The BSNL website has a chart listing recharge rates for 3G prepaid services.  However most retailers in Trivndrum (Vattioorkavu, Shastamangalam) prefer to exclude BSNL from their list of mobile support services. The rare ones that do offer a recharge claim to be unaware about the current rates. Even those with a retailer's access to BSNL website is unable to tell the customer the exact recharge amount (eg. R203) without which he is unable to complete a transaction!   What prevents BSNL from communicating its tariff plans to its own vendors & retailers?

BSNL's tag-line for its 3G services is "Faster than your thoughts". Surely somebody out there has a wicked sense of humor...


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