BSNL abolishes roaming charges on prepaid scheme

State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has abolished roaming charges, starting with one of its prepaid plans.

The move is the first such step by any telecom operator — removing roaming charges without charging any particular rent or payment for doing so.

To avail of the feature, customers have to switch their plan to ‘Roam Free’.

While several private operators have tried to offer ‘free roaming’, they have always tested the such schemes on a very small scale — such as South Indian free roaming or two-state free roaming. Otherwise, they charge a special rent for the facility.

BSNL is the first operator to offer pan-India, permanent free roaming and not charge any special fee or rent for it.

Under the new scheme, customers do not have to pay to receive calls even when they are outside their home state — in effect, making their connection as good as a local connection and allowing them to use their phone number anywhere in the country.

With this, customers no longer have to change their mobile number when they move, temporarily or permanently, from one city in India to another city.

The move is likely to benefit customers who move frequently in and out of their service areas, and those who have dual SIM phones. Subscribers with dual SIM phones can keep BSNL’s SIM in one of the slots and enjoy free roaming everywhere.

It may also be noted that the government is likely to abolish all roaming charges in an upcoming telecom policy, enabling subscribers to use the same phone number anywhere in India. The new policy is expected in June or July of this year.

There is, however, one catch, BSNL’s call rates tend to be higher than those of private operators.

For example, private operators like Reliance Communications, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular etc. offer call rates of between 30 to 50 paise per minute if you subscribe to special tariff packs or STVs costing between Rs 30 to 60 per month.

In comparison, BSNL offers only a 1 paise per second scheme (for Rs 27 per month) and a Rs 1.20-per-three-minutes scheme for Rs 28 per month.

As such, BSNL’s new ‘Roam Free’ plan is likely to attract low-usage customers or those who want to use the it as a second connection on their dual SIM phones.

The base tariff under the free roaming scheme is, however, similar to what the private operators are charging. For example, STD calls are about 1.5 paise per second, compared to 1.2 paise that most operators are charging. For BSNL to BSNL calls, it is, however, only 1.2 paise per second.

BSNL also offers a reduced call rate of 30 paise per minute to one selected BSNL number, possibly including STD.

Video call rates are the same as audio call rates under the free roaming plan. Video incoming calls are also free under the plan.

It may also be noted that the free roaming plan may not work in Delhi and Mumbai, where BSNL does not have its own network and has to depend on Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd or MTNL for roaming coverage.

For details of the plan, click here.