Aircel’s free roaming plan – the start of cheaper phone calls, or not?

Aircel has become the second operator in India to offer a “free roaming” plan, after BSNL, but what is not clear is: Is it really as good as it sounds?

Going by the example of BSNL, which announced such a plan several months ago, for most users, it may be cheaper to stick to existing schemes rather than move to such new ones.

For example, under BSNL’s roam free plan, a user has to pay Rs 199 every six months as plan rental. In other words, Rs 33 per month. Of course, for people who receive more than 55 minutes or so of incoming calls while outside their home circle, the new plan will be beneficial.

In addition, a key advantage for BSNL’s plan is that all ‘special tariff vouchers’ or STVs will be valid on this plan. In other words – you can continue to make calls at Rs 33 paise per minute using BSNL’s special Rs 135 voucher.

In case of Aircel, and possibly other private operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Reliance etc. who will also launch roam free plans in the coming weeks, that point is not clear.

For example, Aircel has termed its plan ‘One Nation, One Rate’. The voice call charges are almost uniform – one paise per second, and should soon be available for online recharge on their website, and other retailers.

However, most Aircel users actually pay much less – one paise per two seconds, thanks to special recharge vouchers or STVs.

The operator, for example, has an STV costing Rs 59 that lowers voice tariffs to 1 paise per second for 3 months, i.e., at the rate of Rs 20 per month.

Often, certain vouchers and packs do not work with certain plans.

What is not clear is whether operators will use the roam free plans to actually raise local and STD tariffs from the current 30 paise per minute level back to 60 paise per minute. Other operators are expected to announce such roaming free plans in the coming months.