New Delhi December 4, 2008
I arrived in Delhi near midnight off a packed flight and to a crowded international airport, no sign of any slowdown in activity as a result of the recent terrorist incidents in Mumbai. The cool winter air is thick with construction dust, there is a new airport being completed and an extensive subway system, including a line running to the airport.
My first task was to get a local SIM for the Sony Ericsson phone I borrowed from my son. I went to a Bharti Airtel customer service center in a south Delhi market in Lajpat Nagar. It was packed with about a dozen customer service reps (see photo), a payment kiosk and about twenty customers. The rep looked at my phone and said that it was locked to the Rogers network (my son goes to college in Canada) and I should go down the street to a shop to get it unlocked. I went to the shop titled “Orange Teleservices” (see photo) and they promptly said they could unlock it for Rs.650 (about $13) and it would take two hours. I then went to get a passport photo taken at a nearby shop called “Kodak Express” (see photo) and paid $1 for 8 color photos. I went back to the Airtel shop and filled out an application for a prepaid account: my photo, passport information and local address was attached to the application. I was told that my SIM would take a day to activate after my application information was verified. This was a new procedure as a result of foreign terrorists acquiring India cellphone accounts to escape being tracked. Seems like the recent terrorists were a step ahead, they bought satellite phones in Dubai to communicate with their handlers in Pakistan.
Airtel Customer Service:
The entire experience with getting a local phone service was much more cumbersome than activating a phone in the US or Canada. Then again I imagine if I was an Indian citizen visiting the US, walking into an AT&T store I might also have to wait a day to get activation? I was astonished by how many stores there were all over south Delhi offering mobile phones and services. With 300M subscribers, up from about 100M when I was last here two years back it is becoming a huge industry here.
Getting my phone unlocked:
Getting my photo for the Airtel cellphone SIM application: