The bad news: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s (BSNL’s) landline-cheap CellOne mobile services, launched with much fanfare by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow on October 19, is not coming to Calcutta.
The not-so-bad news: Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) is on a mission to upgrade switches in Calcutta within a month. This will enable BSNL subscribers here to ‘roam’ and also be able to SMS CellOne users all over the country.
BSNL had launched a pilot project four years ago in Calcutta, Madurai and Patna. This was later offered commercially, under the brand name Bharat Cellular. The reason why CellOne cannot be offered to Calcuttans, according to a senior BSNL official, is: “The quality of Bharat Cellular service is certainly not at par with that of CellOne, though both are based on GSM technology. The equipment for Bharat Cellular is provided by C-DOT, while CellOne uses Ericsson, Lucent and Motorola.”
BSNL's director (marketing) B.R. Khurana, however, made it clear that the “valued Calcutta subscriber” would be taken proper care of. “We have asked C-DOT to update its software for this purpose,” said Khurana.
N.K. Mangla, executive director, C-DOT, confirmed: “We have been approached by BSNL to upgrade switches installed by us in Calcutta, Madurai and Patna. This will be done within a month, maybe earlier. This will enable the Calcutta subscriber to roam and also to receive and send SMS from CellOne subscribers across the country.”
The problem will arise if CellOne decides to add new features to its mobile services. “The switches offered by them are governed by standards prescribed by European Standard Institute (ESI) and it will take us at least six to eight months to match them and offer the same quality,” admitted Mangla.
So, for the moment, Calcutta’s 13,000 BSNL cell subscribers will have to stick to the “low-tech, hi-cost” services offered by Calcutta Telephones, with restricted roaming facilities in Delhi, Mumbai, Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Patna.
CalTel general manager Amit Bhattacharya, overseeing cellular operations here, said: “Our subscribers have free incoming calls from 10 pm to 8 am with no airtime charges for STD and ISD connections. CellOne has 24-hour free incoming calls but only from the BSNL network and ordinary telephones, not from the private cellular operators.’’