Personal Finance

The best 3G plan? Take a call

Arvind Jayaram | Updated on November 19, 2014

Unlimited options. Look out for special offers. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh



While smaller players offer cheaper rates, the trade-off is restricted service.

Does a 3G data plan on your mobile phone cost you more than your calls?

Let’s face it; these days, we often spend more time chatting with friends on WhatsApp and Facebook messenger than making voice calls. Chances are that switching to a data plan that runs little risk of exceeding your fair usage policy (FUP) data transfer limit will be quite beneficial.

Here’s why.

How charges work

Mobile service providers often cap usage under their data plans at a fixed level. Data usage above this threshold is charged a flat 2-10 paise per 10 kilobytes by most service providers like Airtel and Reliance. These extra charges would quickly add up, given that loading a graphics-heavy web page or streaming can involve the transfer of a few megabytes of data (one megabyte is equal to 1,024 kilobytes).

So, clearly, prudence dictates that you choose a plan that gives you little scope of overshooting your FUP limit; you have the advantage of knowing that you’ll only be paying the basic charges for your 3G plan.

Your usage pattern aside, there is a high chance that you could save on mobile bills simply by switching to a smaller service provider. The trade-off here is that if they don’t have pan-India coverage, you won’t be able to access the service in all parts of the country for the time being. But you could even mitigate this inconvenience if you have a dual SIM phone and dedicate the two cards for voice calls and mobile internet, respectively.

Who’s cheap?

An array of plans is on offer by mobile providers such as Tata Docomo, Idea Cellular, Vodafone, Airtel, Reliance, Aircel, Idea, BSNL and MTNL. The bigger and larger providers which operate pan-India and have a larger subscriber base actually have higher 3G rates. On the other hand, barring Reliance, most of the smaller ones charge nearly half what the big ones do (see table).

So while Vodafone charges ₹251 for 1 GB (working out to approximately ₹2,097 at an unsubsidised data transfer cost of 2 paise per 10 kilobytes), Idea and Airtel charge ₹249 for 1 GB of data usage per month. But Reliance charges ₹156 for similar service, BSNL ₹139, Aircel ₹128 and Tata Docomo ₹126. MTNL offers an 800 MB plan with 15 days validity for ₹126 and a 2-GB plan of 30 days tenure for ₹299.

Of all the offers, BSNL’s plan seems to have the most cost-effective and practical, given that BSNL is one of the 3G players in the country with pan-India spectrum. But if you have an aversion to state-run companies, just go by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s mobile subscriber numbers for various companies to arrive at those that have the highest number of users; this can be a thumb rule for determining the level of customer satisfaction. The data is available in the press releases section at

Just remember, not all providers offer services in all cellular circles: for example, you can’t get 3G on a Tata Docomo connection in Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, if you go with Vodofone, you get free 3G roaming across India.

Heavy downloader

With modern smartphones, you can even stream entire movies and music albums using a 3G connection, so we wouldn’t blame you if your data usage runs higher than 1 GB. In this regard, all companies offer plans with progressively higher FUP limits − going up to as high as 10 GB on Airtel and Vodafone — so you can almost always find one that fits your usage pattern.

But beyond these conventional plans, it might also make sense to look out for special offers rolled out by mobile service providers from time-to-time to get cheaper rates on 3G.

For example, MTNL has an offer under which you have to make a one-time payment of ₹1,250 to avail yourself of 900 MB of 3G data usage every month for a whole year.

There is also the option of going for an “unlimited” data plan with a service provider such as Aircel, under which you would be provided 3G data speeds up to a pre-determined FUP threshold, beyond which you would be allowed to continue transferring data without any additional charges, but only at 2G speeds. These plans are slightly more expensive than conventional 3G plans, but knowing that you won’t pay more for exceeding your limit lends clarity.

Wi-Fi advantage

If you still find yourself spending a lot on 3G, synchronise your phone with Wi-Fi networks at home and work or wherever possible, to reduce reliance on your mobile service provider’s network. Also, if your phone is constantly downloading information, it makes make sense to turn off data-hungry apps or switch off your data connection altogether when you’re busy doing other things. By streamlining your costs, you also maximise the cost-effectiveness of your 3G data plan, saving you money in the long run.

Published on June 01, 2014

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