High-speed Internet access is available almost everywhere in India at Internet cafés and hotels, and connection speeds often approach what you're used to at home. Upscale private cafés in major cities often offer Wi-Fi free to customers. Hotel service is generally more reliable, but it's also usually more expensive—business-class hotels may charge as much as Rs. 1,000 or more a day. Rates at Internet cafés are very cheap (around Rs. 30–Rs. 50 for an hour), so it's probably best to leave your computer at home unless you absolutely need it.
If you plan to bring a laptop to India, remember to never plug your computer into a socket before asking about surge protection—some hotels don't have built-in current stabilizers, and extreme electrical fluctuations can damage your adapter.
Cybercafes. More than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide are listed here. www.cybercafes.com.
Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. You can phone from public call offices (PCOs), roadside shops, or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are cell phones, which are more prevalent than landlines in some areas; as expensive as cell-phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.
Using landlines as well as cell phones in India can be frustrating—sometimes the connections are great, sometimes they're lousy, and you'll sometimes have to repeat yourself at least once because connections aren’t always clear.
A few peculiarities to keep in mind: Indian businesses usually have a series of phone numbers instead of just one, because networks can get congested. If a number reads "562/331701 through 331708," for example, you can reach the establishment using any number between 331701 and 331708. Some of the numbers may be telefax numbers, so if you're trying to send a fax and someone answers, ask them to put the fax machine on. Homes may also have two (or more) phone lines, although this is becoming less common with the near-universality of cell phones, especially among young urbanites.
There is no standard number of digits in landline phone numbers across the country. The norm, however, is 10 digits, which includes a city code of two or three digits. Cell-phone numbers are always 10 digits and start with the number 8 or 9. If the cell number is from another state, you’ll need to dial 0 first.
The country code for India is 91, after which you dial the city code, and then the phone number. Delhi's city code is 11, and Mumbai's is 22. Some city codes are three digits, such as the code for Amritsar, which is 183.
Calling Within India
If you're calling long distance within India to any of the landline numbers listed in this book, dial a zero, then the city code, then the phone number. You only have to dial a zero before a 10-digit cell-phone number—there is no city code. When calling from a cell phone to another one in a different city, the call is considered long distance.
Aside from the quality of connections at times, the local telephone system is adequate for getting in touch when you need to. All phone numbers can be dialed directly from pretty much every public access phone, eliminating the need for an operator.
If you don't have a cell phone, the easiest option is to make a call from one of the ubiquitous public call offices (PCOs), easily identifiable by their bright yellow signs. They're not really offices so much as open-air booths, and they're pretty much on every street corner in Indian cities and in small villages, too, as well as in airports and train stations. PCOs are equipped with ISD/STD capabilities, meaning you can make international and long-distance domestic calls in addition to local ones. (ISD stands for "international subscriber dialing," STD for "subscriber trunk [direct distance] dialing.") You'll make a call from a regular telephone connected to a meter that keeps track of the call duration. Once you hang up, an attendant will give you a receipt with the meter reading and tell you how much you owe. Rates are on a per-minute basis, and there is no surcharge. At less than Rs. 10 per minute, domestic calls won't break the bank. It's much more expensive to call internationally, though, so inquire about current rates to different countries. Still, if you just want to call home quickly, calling from a PCO is convenient and usually hassle-free. Try to avoid making calls from hotels. They often come with huge surcharges, and it's just as convenient to use the PCO down the street.
Directory assistance is spotty in India. The private company JustDial (www.justdial.com) is reliable and has numbers all over the country. Two national numbers—6999 and 9999—can be called for assistance from anywhere in India.
Calling Outside India
International calls can be subject to long delays, but most hotels, airports, train stations, post offices, and PCOs are connected to the ISD system. Simply dial 00, followed by the country code, the area code, and the number. If calling from a public phone stall, you'll be handed a receipt with the number of minutes and an attendant will calculate how much you owe. Remember that hotels add an enormous surcharge to international calls and faxes; in addition, they sometimes charge a fee per call made on your calling card. Find out what the charges are before you dial. To avoid the surcharge, make your calls at a PCO. There are no reduced-rate calling hours for international calls. Some Internet cafés are set up to let you use an Internet-based calling service such as Skype. This allows very inexpensive international rates.
The country code for the United States is 1.
Using an AT&T access code to reach an operator can be helpful if you absolutely must use your own calling card from home or want to have charges billed to your personal account. However, it's usually more trouble than it's worth, and calling cards bought locally are guaranteed to be cheaper. Some hotels might not let you use the access number, and surcharges are always involved.
AT&T USADirect. 000-117; www.att.com.
Calling cards for use within India are fairly common. The Indian cell phone service providers Reliance, and Vodafone sell international prepaid calling cards that you can use to call domestically, too. International rates are less than Rs. 10 per minute. The cards work on cell phones and landlines, including at PCOs, and can be bought at practically any stall or shop selling cell phone services. Remember that there might be a surcharge for connecting with these cards on hotel phones.
If you have an unlocked multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from those used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates.
Note that your home provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card. Cell phone technology is excellent in India, and whether you have your own phone or rent one, you'll likely be connected wherever you go because of extensive network coverage all over the country—even in small towns.
If you're based in Europe or another Asian country, your unlocked cell phone will probably work in India. Many American cell phones, especially smartphones, have international roaming capabilities, so inquire with your provider. It’s a good idea to confirm how much the provider charges per minute for international roaming, which can be unless you have a special plan.
If you are planning on staying several weeks, it may be worth your while (and the least hassle) to simply buy a prepaid local SIM card. In most cities there are cell phone shops on just about every corner, and they often sell good-quality used phones as well as inexpensive new ones.
As an anti-terrorism measure, Indian cell-phone shops are required to have a proof of address for anyone buying a new SIM card or cell phone. Although not all shops are stringent about this, the law does mean that buying a card or phone for a short trip may be more trouble than it's worth. If you do find a shop that's willing to work with you, you'll have to provide a copy of your passport, two passport-size photos, and your local address (normally that of your hotel) to register for a SIM card. You'll usually be up and running with a phone number in less than 15 minutes. Some upscale hotels also offer phone rentals to their guests.
You will have to pay a certain number of rupees in advance to get talk time. Nonresidents do not have the option of "post-pay" plans. Rates are generally around Rs. 1 per minute, depending on who you are calling. When you've run out of minutes, you can easily recharge your phone at a cell phone service shop. Airtel and Vodafone are the country's two largest cell phone service providers.
Cellular Abroad. You can rent and buy GMS phones and buy SIM cards that work in many countries from Cellular Abroad. 800/287–5072; www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. This company rents mobiles and sells GSM and satellite phones (starting at $7/day) that work in more than 190 countries. Per-call rates vary throughout the world. 888/888–9162; www.mobalrental.com.
Planet Fone. You can rent cell phones here starting at $21/week, but the per-minute rates are expensive. 888/988–4777; www.planetfone.com.