The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Go long on cell to cell at 50p

Calcutta, May 29: India’s largest cellular service provider, AirTel, kicked off a rate of 50 paise per minute for a mobile to mobile long-distance (STD) call, which will be the standard tariff across the cellphone industry.

This rate will, however, apply only up to a talking time of a total of 100 minutes per month. Beyond this, the current rate of Rs 1.99 paise will hold.

At 50 paise, it will be cheaper to make an STD call from a mobile to mobile than from one fixed phone to another. A fixed-to-fixed STD call costs Rs 4.80 per minute now beyond a distance of 500 km.

According to an announcement made here, to be effective throughout the country, AirTel post-paid users will enjoy this rate provided they pay a monthly charge of Rs 50.

The rate will be effective in tariff plans starting from AirTel Freedom 599. Pre-paid customers and subscribers to the cheapest post-paid scheme will not be eligible for this bonanza.

Not only talking, but writing too is becoming cheaper. SMS charges have been slashed to 60 paise for both post-paid and pre-paid customers.

But by paying Rs 49 per month, post-paid customers can send 80 free messages. The rate will remain 60 paise even beyond this.

A pre-paid subscriber can avail of the lower SMS rate by paying a monthly fee of Rs 25.

Rolling out the new plan, Manoj Kohli, speaking for Bharti, which promotes the AirTel brand, said the rates have been brought down to the “lowest possible” level to bring more customers into the cellular network.

Cellular operators are cutting rates to take on the competition from companies that are offering limited mobility services, such as Reliance and the Tatas, who are coming in with attractive rates.

The rate they offered was 40 paise for an STD call, but within the Reliance limited mobility network.

“Now the charges will remain stable at this level and no further cuts in STD or SMS rates will be effected,” Kohli said.

Following AirTel’s path, the Hutchison group, the second largest cellular operator in the country, will announce a similar package shortly.

“These endeavours are to broaden the GSM market and we will announce a part of the plan by the end of this week. To give users a wider variety to choose from, we have tied up with a number of cellphone manufacturers,” said Sunil Sood, chief operating officer, Hutch.

Kohli charted out the company’s investment plans — over Rs 1,200 crore during the current fiscal for network expansion — aimed at facilitating smooth flow of increased traffic.

“Once you bring down the charges to rock bottom, it is for certain that the traffic will increase by leaps and bounds. We are in the process of gearing up our network to provide the best possible services to customers,” he said.

The company plans to add 300 more towns and take the total number under the coverage of its network to 1,100 by the end of the year. According to him, the number of customers is expected to rise from 3.4 million to six million by March 2004.

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