Who needs 3G? Lets just go Wifi!

Netgear SPH101I finally tried out a Skype-Wifi phone this weekend. The Netgear Skype Wifi phone SPH101 was on display at a local IT-exhibition here in Pune. The phone was already preconfigured to pick up on the Wifi network at the Netgear stall. I picked up the phone, signed into my skype account and made a local call. The call clarity and quality were average and I enjoyed the feel of the keys and the overall skype experience. The keys were configured similar to any other standard phone with 3 alphabets to a key. The phone retails for approximately Rs. 15,500.00 in India, not a small order by any measure.

The Wifi phone itself not really a revolutionary breakthrough. Skype has been bundled with other data-enabled phones in the past – specifically, Pocket PC and Windows mobile. Also, at that price-point, the Wifi phone does not exactly make sense as a replacement for a fixed line telephone. But what makes Skype exciting to me is the idea of a global identity. With Skype you no longer need to know my locally relevent contact number, area code and country code. I can also purchase local numbers in different countries using SkypeIn and have those identities map to my single Skype identity. The global traveler (ahem ;)) could stay connected wherever there is a civilized airport with Wifi.

As long as I am signed into Skype that is. Mobile data connectivity here in India is a story by itself. I am currently signed into GPRS with AirTel. Depending on the day, month, time, latitude, longitude, environment, and of course – depending on how the god of the air feels (Vayu), I could get average connectivity or no connectivity at all.

Could Skype on 3G change all that? Skype is still exploring VoIP on the Hutchison 3G networks in Europe starting way back in Febuary.

In an effort to scope user demand, 3 Sweden is offering a Skype bundle with a 3G flat-rate subscription and 3G data card. With a mobile flat-rate data plan from Hutchison 3, users can make unlimited Skype calls. Christian Salbaing, MD of Europe Telecommunications at Hutchison 3, downplayed concerns that Skype traffic would cannibalise voice revenues. He described it as an attractive value added service that would help tempt more customers onto its network.

The pleasures of flat-rate dialing were too tempting to resist. As I placed the SPH101 down and turned around to leave the Netgear stall – my thoughts were all about the current 3G bids taking place in India. Is there a solution on the cards?

Just then, my eyes landed on the stalls of a popular VoIP provider in India – Phonewala. Phonewala were offering Broadband+VoIP-enabled PCO’s (for those interested, PCO is short for Public Call Office). With a simple Linksys phone adapter (approximately Rs. 4200), Broadband connection (Rs. 900 p.m for 256kbps) and a handset – PCO’s could offer “dial the world at Rs. 2.99/-“. Great, the local tea-stall owner can now call his cousin in Atlanta at rock-bottom rates.

Brilliant! What if PCO’s began offering Wifi? The entire city of Pune would be connected within a few days. We could give some of the big wireless guys a run for their money. Of course, there remains the question of how would the poor PCO operator get paid? But then with our history of socialism – I am sure the city municipal can work something out 🙂 (for those not laughing yet, please don’t mind my rambling).

At the end of the day, the Indian private wireless providers just don’t want to have to do anything that might disturb their revenues. I wish they would stop haggling and seed a long-delayed wireless data revolution in India. Sure voice revenues would start to whittle down – try focusing on areas where there is real value.

Oh and just so that you should know, using Skype in India is not politically correct according to the Economic Times – “Illegal web calls by BPO face axe“.

Trendy India defies the rest of the world – huh!

Click on each link to pull up the Google Trends report.

  1. In India, Movies have always been more popular than TV. The trend is almost always the reverse in all the other countries where both searches are popular.
  2. Rang De Basanti was a lot more popular than Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
  3. Blogs are more popular than newspapers with the online community in India. Only a few other countries exhibit this trend. Update: The trend report for the search term ‘blog’ versus ‘newspaper’ refutes this conclusion, look at the comments for more on using Google Trends reliably.
  4. BSNL and AirTel are the most searched of telecom providers in India. Hutch is a close third and is very popular in West Bengal, while AirTel rules the North.
  5. Searches for Naukri edge out searches for Monster by a close margin. Both trend lines reveal a lot more Indians are going online to look for jobs.
  6. Shah Rukh Khan is more searched than Aamir Khan by online users. Interestingly, more searches for Shah Rukh Khan originated from Rabat, Morocco, than Delhi, India. Amitabh Bachchan does not make much of a dent here. Update: Prateek also suggests that one take into account different ways of spelling – e.g. ‘Shah Rukh’ also becomes ‘Shahrukh’.
  7. Sachin Tendulkar beats Rahul Dravid as far as online trends goDhoni makes a surprise climb up the ranks.
  8. The online community can’t decide between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. On the day of Singh’s appointment to the PM’ship of India, the trend was very different. Pervez Musharraf is eclipsed by the turbaned Indian Prime Minister.
  9. Only for a little while – Football was more popular than Cricket. You guessed it right, the timing coincided with the FIFA world cup, 2006.
  10. Searches for the keyword Matrimony outnumbered searches for Shaadi. Update: Prateek also suggests having a look at the report for ‘marriage ‘ and ‘wedding’ which are much higher than the other two terms.
  11. Mutual Funds are more popular than Shares. The search volumes are the highest in India. Update: The report on ‘stocks’ reveals one more story. In contrast to the rest of the world, the online populace from India still prefer Mutual Funds.
  12. Karan Johar will be happy to hear that he has finally overtaken Mithun as far as online searches go!
  13. IIM’s are catching up to the IIT’s in popularity.
  14. While global interest in GPRS is declining, GPRS interest in India remains just about the same for the last 3 years. Meanwhile, interest in AirTel keeps going climbing. Is India going to be over GPRS even before it can catch on?
  15. Tandoor is just as popular as Chaat or Halwa. Of course, Chaat Cafe (San Jose) has both Chaat and Tandoor, something you won’t see often in India! Update: Prateek points out that a report comparing ‘tandoori’, ‘tandoor’, ‘chaat’, ‘halwa’ would be more on target with tandoori coming out on top.
  16. Goa is much more popular than Himachal, search volumes predict a lot of tourists from the UK in Goa this year.
  17. Google searchers search for India more than its rival China. The pleasures of democracy 🙂 or is this the Baidu effect?

Inspired by: Micro Persuasion: 25 things I learned from Google Trends.

Disclaimer: Google Trends is only a tool. Any conclusions you can draw from the trend reports is at your own risk.

BlackBerry Pearl retails in India

BlackBerry Pearl

Update: Here is what one customer has to say about AirTel’s BlackBerry service in India and the BlackBerry Pearl.

1. Email service on airtel.blackberry.com id is unreliable, as there is “no server” where to push emails from! I bought my Pearl in Dec-2006 and have lost most emails when the helpline tried to re-configure after my email send-and-receive stopped for some reason.

2. Trackball was beautiful, but since couple of weeks, scrolling has become erratic for me. Sometimes, upward scrolling does not work, and at other times, scroll to left fails. If the problem cannot be solved and the instrument has to be replaced, it takes about 15 days (in Bangalore).

3. Airtel and BB support has been poor, whether on phone or email. Calls get dropped, and they don’t stretch to call back or follow up, beyond an immediate and annoying customer-satisfaction sms. “Call volumes are high” is the standard response. Requests get “closed” though customer still faces problems, and if serious complaints are raised, the call is either dropped or you are told that a remark has been raised in their systems (whose wording, of course, bears scant resemblance to the issue at hand.

4. Blackberry Prosumer (tariff) Plan for data can get switched to Rs.899 plan even if you’ve signed up for the 499 one. You’re told to get company approval, though it’s a personal phone. Bills and collection followup via sms, manual calls, automated calls, etc., gets done 3-4 times daily by different agencies … to a point that outgoing calls are cut. It’s happened to me while on holiday with family in Mumbai, for a fault that Airtel+BB committed.

5. Other than for music, ringtones, pic, and video, files can neither be saved from within BB (even if it’s attached to email) nor viewed (when not attached to an email).

More later …
Regards,
— Vinit

The BlackBerry Pearl has been retailing in India for a while now and costs approximately Rs. 25,000 (as stated on CNN-IBN – Tech2.0). Strangely, I have not seen much of it on TV, Print and other media. The AirTel site does not list the Pearl either. Update: You can now watch the BlackBerry Pearl promoted on almost all the premium info TV channels.

NokiaE61The Pearl was featured this weekend on CNN-IBN’s Tech 2.0. While the shows review was not a detailed one (they enlisted a few strengths and weaknesses of several e-mail phones) you can find a detailed review on the tech2 web-site. Tech2 cited the Nokia E61 to be the closest competitor the BlackBerry Pearl 8100. In their own words, the Nokia E61 is a “BlackBerry Killer”. The Nokia E61 retails at Rs. 17,500. If your concerned about continuing to get your BlackBerry e-mail and are wondering if you can upgrade, the Nokia E61 can be used to grab BlackBerry e-mail. The E61 ships with BlackBerry Connect software that you can use to get your BlackBerry e-mail from your BlackBerry network.

Update: The E61 is being sold as the Nokia E62 in the USA. Business week has a short review of the phone.

More on the blackberry on Sukshma.

AirTel GPRS settings for prepaid users – Nokia 6230

Important: To those who found this page while searching for settings for airtel gprs. Make sure you have activated Mobile Office first. As far as I know, Mobile Office or AirTel GPRS is not free for prepaid users. If you were to e-mail me – please note that I cannot help you if your phone is very different from a Nokia 6230, 6030, N-series, 3030 and some of the other standard Nokia gadgets.

Your best bet is probably to visit an AirTel shop like I did. If you must do it yourself – the AirTel GPRS access-point in Pune (and maybe other cities) is airtelgprs.com. Try setting that on your phone. There is no username and password needed, but you need to have activated Mobile Office as shown in AirTel pre-paid GPRS Activation and Usage.

More gprs related articles on Sukshma.net.

——

Finally received GPRS settings for my phone. All I did was stop by my local AirTel prepaid shop, they fixed up my Nokia 6230 for GPRS usage.

While speaking to the salesmen at the shop, I requested for the settings to be (at least) written down so that I might share them here. Unfortunately, the gentleman who was aware of how the Nokia 6230 should be set up refused to write the instructions down (odd?). He setup the phone and handed it over.

After a quick glance at my phone settings, I could figure out he had made the following changes: Go into Settings >> Connectivity >> GPRS >> GPRS modem settings. Alias for access point was “Airtel live!” and GPRS access point was “airtelfun.com” (Update: Turns out, these settings are really rubbish – the settings in the next paragraph are the ones that work).

Step out of Settings, go back into Web >> Settings >> Connection Settings. Create a new Connection set by selecting an (empty) slot. Edit the new connection settings, call it “Mobile office“, set your home page, disable all proxies, select “GPRS” as the data bearer. Select Bearer settings, set the GPRS access point to “airtelgprs.com“, authentication type “normal“, login type “automatic“. Leave the username and password as empty.

Let me know if this works for you. Remember to activate GPRS. by sending over SMS “GPRSACT” to 511. Also remember that they are charging Re 12/- per day.

Web and GPRS network-enabled applications started to work fine immediately after.

AirTel pre-paid GPRS Activation and usage

Update: AirTel has recently discontinued the SMS activation and deactivation service for GPRS/Mobile Office. You now need to call 56561, press 1 for English, press 1 to activate GPRS. It takes about 2 to 4 days to have GPRS activated, painfully slow. To deactivate GPRS or Mobile Office, call 56562, press 1 for English, press 1 to deactivate GPRS.

To activate, SMS “GPRSACT” to 511. AirTel will begin charging you Re 14.99/- per day. You will need to SMS “MO” (Mobile office?) to 501 for the precise settings for your phone (I did not get a response with settings as promised), or call their customer-service.

To deactivate, send “GPRSDEACT” to 511.

I also have a brief article on setting up your Nokia 6230 for AirTel’s Mobile Office.

AirTel LIVE! and GPRS are not the same. For AirTel LIVE, I suggest you start with the AirTel web portal and FAQ on AirTel LIVE by clicking here.

Rediff: BlackBerry Connect for the Nokia 9300 now available through AirTel, India

Article: “Airtel’s BlackBerry: Not too hot” – Rediff.com, Dec 16th. 2005.

My take, author’s spelling – not too hot! But then let me not miss the real theme of the article. The author is not the only one to complain about the poor memory available on RIM devices (I believe he is talking about permanent storage memory). BBConnect devices are one way to get around such limitations. Surprisingly, India got BBConnect before the US did. Could it be that the outstanding case with NTP is delaying BBConnect’s introduction to the U.S. mobile market? There are also a few standard BlackBerry features missing on the BBConnect device. For example, wireless synchronization of your contacts and calendar.