India has the fastest growing telecom market in the world with more than 1.2 billion subscribers in 2018. It's also one of the most chaotic for foreigners. A lot of operators used to share the market, but after the market entry of a disruptive player in 2015/6 a massive wave of consolidation has hit the country 2017-9. Only four groups of providers remain, that are now active nationwide (in all circles):

  • Vodafone - Idea: based on the merger of Vodafone and Idea networks
  • Bharti Airtel: including acquistions and mergers of Telenor and Tata DoCoMo
  • Reliance Jio: started in 2016 on 4G/LTE only (with 2G roaming for voice)
  • BSNL and MTNL (the latter in Delhi and Mumbai): state-run providers

Reliance Communications (RCOM) sold its assets and left the mobile market, Telenor did the same, Tata Domoco is still maintained as a separate brand using Airtel's network and Aircel fell into bankrupcy.

Vodafone-Idea has become the new market leader with its two brands, followed by Airtel and newcomer Jio that leads in mobile broadband with the most data agressive pricing and a rapidly growing market share, while the two state-run companies remain at a small share of less than 10%.

Frequencies and coverage Edit

India is divided into 22 mobile telephone markets called circles. All licenses are given out per circle. There used to be a considerate fragmentation between circles. Through mergers and acquisitions all 3 private mobile provider groups are operative now nationwide in all circles on 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE.

Besides GSM networks, WIMAX and CDMA have been used too, but not part of this survey. CDMA has been shut down and the spectrum is now refarmed to LTE.

Operator 2G GSM 3G UMTS 4G LTE
Vodafone Idea 900* MHz, 1800 MHz 2100 MHz 1800 MHz (3), 2300# MHz (40), 2500* MHz (41)
Airtel 900* MHz, 1800 MHz 2100 MHz 1800 MHz (3), 2300 MHz (40)
Jio n./a. n./a. 850 MHz (5), 1800 MHz (3), 2300 MHz (40)
BSNL (MTNL) 900 MHz, 1800* MHz 2100* MHz 850 MHz (5), 1800* MHz (3), 2500* MHz (41)

no remark = in all circles, (*) = in most circles, (#) = in few circles. BSNL is active in all circles except Mumbai and Delhi where MTNL operates.

You can never really rely on one network only as blackouts and congestions are frequent. At other times and places, you may also get worldclass speed and coverage.

According to crowdsourced Open Signal's Mobile Network Experience Report of November 2018 Airtel has continued its domination in data download speeds with 7.53 Mbps of overall 4G and 3G speeds, followed by Jio, Vodafone, Idea, and BSNL. Despite its leadership in downloads speeds, Airtel hasn't been able to take on Jio on the part of 4G availability that continued its success with a growth in 4G availability from 96.4% to 96.7%.

Legal requirements Edit


It's theoretically easy to get a prepaid SIM card in India as a foreigner, you just have to make sure you have all the proper documents and they'll probably want photocopies of them too. These documents you'll probably need:

  • make a copy of the photo / name page of your passport,
  • a copy of the Indian visa page in your passport (or your OCI card),
  • and a passport sized picture as well.

You will need to present these, along with your original passport document, to the SIM vendor.

  • Get a proof of where you're staying in India. While for many vendors a visiting card of a hotel may be enough, some may ask for a letter from the frontdesk verifying that you are indeed staying there.
  • If you are staying by private invitation instead, be ready to provide these contact details as the operator may phone your host to verify your data under "Know your Customer" rules.
  • If your passport doesn't have a home address, try to show something which looks official with it.

The Indian Government has recently put in restrictions that puts a 3 month limit on prepaid SIM connectivity for foreign visitors to India. In reality your SIM card may have validity for 3 months or till the end of the validity of your visa (just a matter of luck)

As of 2012, there has been a significant tightening of regulations around the purchase and activation of SIM cards. Some operators are saying that it will take at least 4 days to activate a SIM card once purchased. Officially, this process takes 24-48 hours. In practice, some SIMs are activated within 12 hours since the rule has changed, and other SIMs have taken almost a week to activate. And, just to make things more difficult, there is very little rhyme, reason or logic to how long any of these things take.

In 2015 the process seems mostly to be a bit swifter. Many people report that their SIM cards were activated within 2 days. For latest reports and updates check this forum. But you still have to be prepared that it takes quite a while and you may be called to confirm your identity or local address. Some users finally gave up during the lengthy process.

Miraculously, there are also opposite reports especially from tourist locations, where users needed to pay some extra fees like Rs. 700 to bypass the paperwork and skip activation time. These SIM cards usually work for 30 days only. In 2017 the government and the national tourist office stated that tourists need to wait for 5-6 hours on average for activating a new SIM Card, and after providing all relevant documents. So things seem to have speeded up.

In 2018 the situation remains confusing. Increasingly, at gateway airports private SIM vendors in small phone stores are offering SIM cards for a premium. These cards appear to be already registered (on probably somebody else) and should be verified at the point of purchase. Nevertheless, they may be an option, if you want to be sure to be connected and as prices are minimal in India, you still pay less than in many other countries.

Because of the legal hassle at the end of this article a travel solution for India with a phone rental including data SIM is added. With Trabug you'll pay a heavy surcharge, but can pre-arrange your SIM and can be sure that it will work in the country rightaway. However, if you manage to buy and activate a local SIM card, you will be rewarded by the lowest data prices in the world.

Availability Edit

Most international airports in India have counters where you can buy SIM cards. These counters are usually located right after you clear customs. For the most part, if you have the above documents in order, you should be able to get your card in 15-20 minutes after you fill out the required documentation.

If you don't get one at the airport, you should be able to get a prepaid SIM card at a local, independent cellphone dealer. If you have all the documents in place, it will make it much easier for them and will lead to less hassle.

Regional organization Edit

When starting up, be sure to enable (domestic) roaming as the networks are organized on a state (or rather circle) level. Jio started with agressive priceing in 2016/7 and as a consequence all inter-circle roaming surcharges have been scrapped. All data allowances are now available through all circles nationwide. But still different pricing can apply for purchasing a package according to circle.

Special rules for Jammu and Kashmir state Edit

A prepaid SIM card bought and registered somewhere in India, can be used all over the union, except in Jammu and Kashmir (State of North India) this is because of the fear of terrorism. Only a new prepaid SIM, bought in J&K works in this state. There the restrictions are even higher: you will need 4 passport photos, copies of your passport and your local sponsor (hotel manager or local counterpart) and expect that activation takes even longer. J&K SIM cards have reduced functionality: You can't receive or send text messages and the number of the prepaid subscriber from Jammu and Kashmir won't work outside the state. This restriction has been extended to 2018.

List of providers Edit

The following list is divided in the four remaining players on the Indian market according to market share. It only gives you basic information about availability and prices. Only nationwide promotions and plans are listed and often local offers differ in price according to region (circle).

So check locally or for a detailed list of all providers, circles and mobile plans check on or compare plans on

Do not disturb (NCPR) registry Edit

Many Indian SIM card users suffer from a lot of unwanted marketing messages and calls made by the mobile network operators. These messages and calls are extremely annoying and should better be turned off.

The National Customer Preference Register (NCPR) is intended to give Indian consumers an opportunity to limit or block the telemarketing calls that they receive and is usually referred as the Do Not Disturb (DND) registry.

This process of activating DND/NCPR services is the same for all providers: text 'START 0' to 1909 or call 1909. Check registry status of your phone number here.

Vodafone Idea Edit


Vodafone Idea Ltd. is now India's largest telecom operator offering 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE mobile services under its two brands named Vodafone and Idea. As of 2018, Vodafone Idea has 38% market share in India with 444 million subscribers, making the largest mobile telecommunications network in India and second largest mobile network in the world.

In August 2018, Vodafone India merged with Idea Cellular, and was renamed as Vodafone Idea Ltd. However, the merged entity will continue using both the Idea and Vodafone brands.

Newly merged Vodafone Idea Ltd. owns this spectrum in different bands all across the country:

  • 2G/GSM is on 900 MHz and/or 1800 MHz in all circles
  • 3G/UMTS is on 2100 MHz in all circles
  • 4G/LTE is on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in all circles, 2300 MHz (TD-LTE Band 40) in Maharashtra & Goa, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh circles only, 2500 MHz (TD-LTE Band 41) in all circles except Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

As of September 2018, Vodafone Idea Ltd offers 4G/LTE services on its own spectrum in all the telecom circles.

Vodafone Edit



Their SIM card costs Rs. 50-100, various vendors may charge whatever they feel like. Recharges are made in their shops or online from Rs. 111 for a credit of Rs. 105 to Rs. 1000.

The most useful USSD codes to manage a Vodafone SIM can be found here.

Data offers Edit

Default rate outside of packs is on most prepaid tariffs and circles is around 4p per 10 KB. Their rates and package sizes differ very much from circle to circle. So it doesn't make sense to quote local prices here.

Recharge Data Time Extras
Rp. 21 unlimited 1 hour
Rp. 27 500 MB 28 days
Rp. 33 unlimited 1 night valid 1am - 6am
Rp. 46 1 GB 28 days
Rp. 48 3 GB 24 hours
Rp. 92 6 GB 7 days
Rp. 199 1.4 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 209 1.5 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 255 2 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 349 3 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 399 1.4 GB/day 70 days *
Rp. 458 1.4 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 479 1.5 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 509 1.4 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 511 2 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 529 1.5 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 549 3.5 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 569 3 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 799 4.5 GB/day 28 days *

overuse fee is Rs. 0.04 per 10 KB.

(*) = all these packs come with unlimited local, STD & national roaming calls, 100 SMS/day

International roaming offers Edit

Vodafone has the best international roaming offer on the Indian market called iRoam Free. These roaming plans come in different time frames beween 1 day at Rs 500 and 30 days at Rs 5000 (for full list see here). These packages are valid in 40 countries. In the USA, Singapore and UAE calls and data, both incoming and outgoing while travelling in these countries are completely surcharge free. In 37 further countries: France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Albania, Hungary, Luxembourg, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Mauritius, and Morocco all incoming calls are free, and data plus outgoing calls being nominally charged at Rs 1 per MB and Rs 1 per minute respectively.

More info Edit

Idea Edit


Availability Edit

SIM card costs Rs.10 + 1.10 tax, various vendors may charge whatever they feel like. Default data rate is around 3p per 10 KB. For USSD codes that can be used to manage your SIM, check here.

Data offers Edit

Idea has competitive prices for packages, similar to Airtel or Vodafone. However, their prices differ widely according to state/circle.

For offers check their website and select circle. These following promotions are valid nationwide and offered in 2018/9:

Recharge Data Time Extras
Rp. 28 500 MB 28 days
Rp. 45 1 GB 28 days
Rp. 98 3 GB 28 days
Rp. 179 1 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 199 1.4 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 249 2 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 349 3 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 398 1.4 GB/day 70 days *
Rp. 459 1.4 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 499 2 GB/day 82 days *
Rp. 509 1.4 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 511 2 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 529 1.5 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 549 3.5 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 569 3 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 799 4.5 GB/day 28 days *

overuse fee is Rs. 0.04 per 10 KB.

(*) = all these packs come with unlimited local, STD & national roaming calls, 100 SMS/day

More info Edit

Airtel (Bharti Airtel and Tata Docomo merging)Edit

Airtel India (a.k.a. as Bharti Airtel) used to be the biggest provider in India and is now the second largest provider of mobile telephony in the country with about 344.55 million wireless subscribers in India or about 30% of the market. This comes through mergers and acquisitions of other providers like Telenor. The latest merger with Tata Docomo is expected to be finished in 2019 giiving another 40 million customers to the new group.

The Airtel group owns this spectrum in different bands all across the country:

  • 2G/GSM is on 900 MHz and/or 1800 MHz in all circles,
  • 3G/UMTS is on 2100 MHz in all circles,
  • 4G/LTE is on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in all circles and 2300 MHz (TD-LTE Band 40) in all circles
Airtel and through free roaming Tata customers can use 4G/LTE services on own spectrum in all the telecom circles.

Airtel India Edit


An Airtel SIM card costs Rs. 50-100, some vendors may charge more. Swapping a 3G SIM to a 4G SIM is free.

Activation takes two hours up to some days. 3G/4G activation takes up another four hours after intial SIM card activation. When you buy the card, initially you will have no network; after some hours, you'll notice network availability; call 59059 to activate. You'll need to give the last four digits of your ID.

Any Airtel number may be released, if not logged into the network for 30 days. Balance check: *121*2#. Click here for many other useful codes.

Data offersEdit

Default data depending on prepaid tariff line and region and is mostly around 4p per 10 KB.

Airtel always offers promotions for new customers and their first time recharge. So ask for it. Afterwards 3G/4G data "normal" recharge price applies and they differ between circles. There are no manual activations as such, once the credit is added the data package is activated automatically, with a SMS notification. So every top-up correspondents with a certain allowance. Be sure to top-up the right amount exactly to get the right bundle.

Note that their plans might slightly differ according to circle. These plans are given out for 2G/3G and 4G/LTE:

Recharge Data Time Extras
Rp. 9 100 MB 1 day
Rp. 29 520 MB 28 days
Rp. 48 1 GB 28 days
Rp. 49 3 GB 24 hours
Rp. 59 500 MB 7 days *
Rp. 92 6 GB 7 days
Rp. 98 3 GB 28 days
Rp. 99 1 GB 10 days *
Rp. 119 1 GB 14 days *
Rp. 159 1 GB 21 days *
Rp. 175 6 GB 28 days
Rp. 199 1.4 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 245 2 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 289 1 GB/day 48 days *
Rp. 349 3 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 399 1.4 GB/day 70 days *
Rp. 448 1.4 GB/day 82 days *
Rp. 449 2 GB/day 70 days *
Rp. 495 1.4 GB/day 84 days *
Rp. 499 2 GB/day 82 days *
Rp. 509 1.4 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 558 3 GB/day 82 days *

overuse fee is Rs. 0.04 per 10 KB

(*) = to these plans unlimited local, STD and national roaming calls along with 100 SMS per day are added.

To apply a feature data pack, you can ask at any shop showing the Airtel logo, which are very widespread. Contrary to most countries, don't just buy the airtime - you need to buy and apply data packs separately.

There are lots of special offers, and data packs can be shared with up to five 'family' members. It's worth downloading the My Airtel app to see all offers and easily apply them; this is only available on the Indian App and Play stores, but how to install it on a device from outside is shown here.

Domestic roaming has to be switched on to use internet out of the state you've purchased the SIM from. There are no extra charges for this domestic data roaming, but for roaming and STD calls there remain extra charges.

More infoEdit

TaTa DoCoMo (about to be taken over by Airtel) Edit

Tata Docomo
The Tata Group is planning to close the wireless operations of its unit in India, which operates via several brands, including Tata DoCoMo and sell its assets to market leader Airtel.

Airtel has agreed to acquire the consumer mobile businesses of Tata Group’s Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL) and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Limited (TTML) divisions in 2017. The takeover is subject to regulatory approval and will see Tata’s wireless operations across 19 circles merged into Airtel. Under the agreement, all of the customers and assets of TTSL/TTML will be transferred to Airtel, including its more than 40 million subscribers and a portfolio of spectrum.

This deal is expected to be completed in 2019. In the meantime Tata customers can use the network of Airtel and some own offers are still marketed.

Data options Edit

These packages for 2G and 3G data are sold in the circles where Tata operates:

Recharge Data Time Extras
Rp. 15 100 MB 3 days
Rp. 29 200 MB 28 days
Rp. 44 1 GB 28 days
Rp. 45 3 GB 2 days
Rp. 79 2 GB 28 days
Rp. 98 5 GB 28 days
Rp. 99 1.4 GB/day 28 days
Rp. 148 1 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 179 1.4 GB/day 28 days *
Rp. 348 6 GB 84 days
Rp. 349 1.4 GB/day 70 days *
Rp. 499 2 GB/day 90 days *
Rp. 505 1 GB 1 year

Overuse fee is Rs. 0.01 per 10 KB.

(*) = to these plans unlimited local, STD and national roaming calls along with 100 SMS per day are added.

More info Edit

Jio Edit

Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), the mobile arm of petrochemical giant Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) owned by India's richest man Mukesh Ambani, started its new 4G-only network at the end of 2015 nationwide.

This is the company everybody is speaking about. In 2016 RJIL started a price war with their new 4G/LTE network. The operator currently covers more than 90% of the population with 4G/LTE in all circles. It has twice as many towers for 4G than its competitors and has become the broadband market leader in India. But on Jio, there is no fallback to 2G or 3G. For voice there is supposed to be free roaming through the network of BSNL (see below, not in Mumbai and Delhi) thanks to an inter-circle agreement beween Jio and BSNL. This seems not to be implemented in all circles so far. You need a VoLTE device or their JIO app to place voice calls.

Jio has only own 4G/LTE access to 850 MHz (Band 5) in 10 circles, 1800 MHz (Band 3) spectrum in about 6 circles and 2300 MHz spectrum (TD-LTE Band 40) in all 22 circles. They claim to have double average speed with 16 Mbps compared to their competitors, but OpenSignal tests proved otherwise and showed in fact slower speeds than Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

The start Edit

Under it's welcome offer, all Jio services including voice, apps, and 4G/LTE data were available for free until March 2017 (up to 4 GB per day). It has been the fastest growing technology firm with 100 million customers gained in just 170 days, that's 7 customers per second.

Up to 2018 Jio has reached a market share of more 230 million users or 20% of all subscribers in the country. Jio announced that it would be adding to its more than 100,000 LTE tower sites another 100,000 new sites by the end of the year, targeting a mobile 4G/LTE coverage of 95% of the population.

Availability Edit

As their SIM cards are still in high demand, expect delays and problems like overcrowding of their network. Jio faces a blockade of the other carriers e.g. through interconnection issues with the other networks. Jio claims a call failure rate of 175 calls per 1000 calls due to anti-competitive behaviour of the other providers. In 2017 their data download rates which were unreliable at first, but now seemed to have stabilised nationwide.

Top-up vouchers are sold from Rp. 10 - 5,000 or top-up online. The best way to monitor your consumption is to install their MyJio app.

Data plans Edit

Reliance Jio, which claims to be the world's largest mobile data network, continues to bring about paradigm shifts in the Indian telecom market. Jio has launched new plans to ensure customers get the best deals:

All of these plans require a Jio Prime membership for Rp. 99 per year. They include free calls (VoLTE-only or BSNL roaming) local, STD and roaming, free SMS to all operators and a data quota and "unlimited" data regulated by a daily quota:

Recharge Time Total Data FUP per day
Rp. 19 1 day 150 MB 150 MB
Rp. 52 7 days 1.05 GB 150 MB/day
Rp. 98 28 days 2 GB
Rp. 149 28 days 42 GB 1.5 GB/day
Rp. 198 28 days 56 GB 2 GB/day
Rp. 251 51 days 102 GB
Rp. 299 28 days 84 GB 3 GB/day
Rp. 349 70 days 105 GB 1.5 GB/day
Rp. 398 70 days 140 GB 2 GB/day
Rp. 399 84 days 126 GB 1.5 GB/day
Rp. 448 84 days 168 GB 2 GB/day
Rp. 449 91 days 136 GB 1.5 GB/day
Rp. 498 91 days 182 GB 2 GB/day
Rp. 509 28 days 112 GB 4 GB/day
Rp. 799 28 days 140 GB 5 GB/day
Rp. 999 90 days 60 GB
Rp. 1699 365 days 547.5 GB 1.5 GB/day
Rp. 1999 180 days 125 GB
Rp. 4999 360 days 350 GB
Rp. 9999 360 days 750 GB

Prices are the same in all circles. Exceeding the FUP, speed will be throttled to 128 kbps.

More info Edit

BSNL and MTNL (state-owned) Edit

Both state-owned mobile providers in India are notoriously cash-stricken and known for their unreliable service. 4G/LTE is starting with BSNL and still not on the air from MTNL. BSNL operators in all circles except in Delhi and Mumbai, where MTNL operates. A merger of the two companies is expected for some time now.


BSNL for Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, formerly known as CellOne, is an Indian state-owned telecommunications company. It operates in all circles except the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi where MTNL operates instead (see below).

BSNL owns spectrum across the country except of Mumbai and Delhi. 2G/GSM is on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE is in trials in some circles and soon to be launched on 850 MHz (Band 5), 1800 MHz (Band 3) and 2500 MHZ (TD-Band 41).

Availability Edit

They sell a prepaid data SIM with voice for Rs. 20 with a 96 Rs. voucher as a regular SIM or for Rs. 59 as a USIM. This includes 500 MB vaild for 30 days.

For SIM card management, check out these USSD codes.

Data options Edit

State-owned telco BSNL is not aloof from the ongoing battle amongst the private industry players either. These packages can be activated for 2G and 3G, check here.

More info Edit


MTNL for Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. is the other state-owned telecommunications service provider in the metro cities of Mumbai and New Delhi. They operate only there and in two different branches for Mumbai and Delhi. It's expected that they will be merged with BSNL in the future. Note that they don't offer 4G/LTE yet, but have requested spectrum for a launch soon. That's why they may be not so convenient for travellers and are mentioned only shortly.

MTNL in Mumbai Edit

MTNL sells a broad and quite cheap variety of 2G/3G data packs for Mumbai only: check data-packs

MTNL in New Delhi Edit

Likewise, MTNL sells similar very cheap 2G/3G data packs in Delhi only, check here and tick data plans and change to prepaid.

More info Edit

Trabug Edit


Because of the legal hassle to get a SIM card (see Basics) a travel solution for India with a phone or WiFi hotspot rental including a local SIM is offered with Trabug. You'll pay a heavy surcharge for their service, but can pre-arrange your SIM before travel and can be sure that it will work in the country from the start.

Trabug was launched in 2016 by a small team of tech professionals in the North Indian town of Panchkula. They rent out smartphones and WiFi hotspots powered by a 4G/LTE SIM card to foreign tourists. The Android phone. WiFi hotspot and operators are not specified, but will have 4G/LTE access where covered. It additionally includes a travel guide.

Rental Edit

You have to order online on their website. Though you still have to send all the required documents (see Basics) to them when ordering, but Trabug will do the arrangements for you. Once the traveller arrives in India and receives the kit, all he/she has to do is activate the SIM card, by following a simple set of instructions. They charge US$ 9.99 for shipping, if the rental bill is below US$ 50.

For returning the phone or mifi to the company the user needs to place it in a pre-supplied box, leave it at the hotel reception or place of stay, and the company will have it collected.

Rates Edit

The product must be ordered and payed in advance online by credit card or PayPal.

  • Android phone rental: including 1.2 GB 4G data, 120 mins nationwide calling and 5 SMS at US$ 3.99 per day
  • WiFi Hotspot rental: including 1.2 GB 4G data and a router that connects up to 5 devices at US$ 2.49 per day

All incoming calls and SMS are free. Due to government regulations, plans can not be longer than 80 days. There is a refundable security deposit of US$ 65 charged before shipping, which is refunded within 10 working days after returning the device.

More info Edit