Airtel’s data plans are detrimental to growth of VAS

As anybody who’s tried to download content over Airtel knows, the experience is frustrating enough to put you off content downloading for a long, long time. I have been an Airtel GPRS subscriber for nearly 2 years but have never been able to figure out the different types of GPRS schemes available to subscribers.

Now, lets see what an Airtel subscriber has to wade through in order to download content. The basic GPRS package on Airtel is called Airtel Live and gives you access only to Airtel’s portal or walled garden. There is no GPRS monthly rental or data charge to activate Airtel Live, but the user explicitly needs to request for Airtel Live activation. Airtel Live activation only allows access to the Airtel Live portal . However, the portal itself requires a subscription of Rs. 30 per month in order to download any ringtone, image or game. The Rs.30 subscription gives you ‘free’ content worth Rs30 and any further content downloads are charged per download. Typical ringtones are Rs7-10 and games retail at Rs50 –Rs100 per game.

Another package called Mobile Office, which I’m subscribed to, allows me to download mail from my office server and access any WAP/WEB site I want to. Mobile office subscription is Rs 600 per month for unlimited data access. Here’s the extremely bizzare bit – despite being a Mobile office subscriber, I cannot download content from any 3rd party WAP site such as Yahoo! mobile of Indiatimes. I can access the sites but any attempt at downloading gives me a message that says “You are not authorized to download”. Completely perplexed, I called Airtel only to find that I needed to subscribe to another data plan called Airtel Online, which would allow me to download content from 3rd party WAP sites for Rs 99 a month.

So now, I have 4 data access points I juggle around with depending on what I’m trying to do – Airtel Live, Airtel Online, Mobile Office and Airtel MMS. How on earth does Airtel expect a lay man to figure out any of this. I do not have any personal experience with Hutch, but I’m told there is just one standard data plan.

I wonder what Airtel’s VAS team is thinking. If the idea is to drive traffic only to the Airtel Live portal, then they are being extremely short sighted and haven’t learnt from operators world over who are moving away from the walled garden approach. The only other explanation I can think of is that they want to limit data usage until they invest in infrastructure to handle large scale data usage. Either way, one cann only hope that Airtel simplifies its data plans soon and benefits the entire industry by doing so.

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About Deepak
Venture Capital and M&A advisor, Entrepreneur, Startup enthusiast..

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