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Lifetime Prepaid Plan - Detailed review

What is lifetime validity?
Lifetime prepaid means that your cell-phone connection remains valid for life. You also get a minimal talktime, ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 100 (See: Lifetime offer). The good part is that all subsequent recharges give you full talktime. There will be no processing charges, something that is a big turn-off for prepaid customers. For instance, out of the Rs 335 an Airtel prepaid customer in Delhi pays to recharge his connection for 30 days, Rs 150 go into processing fees. Another Rs 31 go to the government as tax & he gets airtime worth only Rs 154. If he takes the lifetime validity offer, the same Rs 335 recharge will give him talktime worth Rs 302 — & that's for life. By saving on the Rs 150 processing fee, he will recover the one-time charge of Rs 990 for lifetime validity in six-seven months.

K. SRINIVAS
CEO, Airtel (Delhi)

Lifetime offer opens up new segments of the population who could not afford to go mobile earlier All this may sound great but lifetime validity is not exactly the best thing that happened to prepaid. For one, the call charges are higher than the normal prepaid rates. A local call from an Airtel prepaid connection to another Airtel number is charged at Re 1 per minute while other local calls cost Rs 2 per minute. In lifetime validity, the rate is a flat Rs 2 for all local calls. Then again, an STD call to another Airtel number is for Rs 2 a minute & around Rs 3 to other networks. But lifetime connections are charged a flat rate of Rs 3 per minute. You don't get the normal discount.

There's more bad news in store. The lifetime offer cannot be combined with any other discount scheme. This is a major drawback. Service providers offer discounted rates for a small one-time fee. By paying just Rs 25 a month, Hutch customers can get a discounted rate of 99 paise per minute to all local mobiles. By paying Rs 75 a month, all local calls & SMSs to local Hutch phones are charged 49 paise a minute while all other local calls are charged 99 paise a minute. Another plan offers STD calls at just Re 1 a minute for a monthly charge of Rs 25. But lifetime validity customers cannot avail of these offers.

MAHESH UPPAL
Telecom consultan

Locking yourself into a scheme may not work if call charges come down in future, which is likely. There are regulatory glitches as well. The licences given to cell-phone companies for operating mobile services in different circles themselves are valid for 20 years. The Telecom & Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is looking into the feasibility of such lifetime offers considering that the validity of the service provider itself is limited. A TRAI official points out that the fine print says that the offer is valid till the licence is valid. "We need to know whether the scheme will be carried forward when the licenses are renewed & what exactly is the definition of lifetime validity when the companies themselves have a licence for a limited period," he says. TRAI will soon issue guidelines in this regard.

Who is it for?

Lifetime offer
Who is giving it: Hutch, Airtel, Idea, Reliance, Tata Indicom, MTNL & BSNL
Price: Rs 990-999
Talktime: Rs 25-100
Call rates: Rs 2 for local calls & Rs 3 for STD. No discounted rate for calls to same network.
Major draw: Validity for life & full talktime on all future recharges.
The catch: Can't combine this offer with other concessional offers. Call charges are higher than normal prepaid rates.
The target segment: Low-usage customers, like electricians, plumbers, carpenters, petty shopkeepers, delivery boys, salespersons, maidservants, milkmen, school students, etc.

Different plans suit different individuals depending on their usage pattern & budgets. For instance, there is a plan under which an SMS costs just 10 paise. Another offers very low call charges at night for people who love yakking after hours. The lifetime validity offer is suitable for low-usage customers-people who receive calls but rarely make any. Like your driver. Or the plumber, electrician or carpenter. Or even a school-going child. It is also useful for small businessmen who want to keep in touch with their employees but don't expect them to make calls. Says K. Srinivas, CEO, Airtel Delhi: "The Lifetime Prepaid opens up new segments of the population who want to go mobile but could not afford it earlier."

However, if you use your cell phone intensively, you are better off without a lifetime validity, never mind the full talktime on subsequent recharges. In any case, industry sources say that the processing fee may soon be done away, making recharging cheaper.

Lifetime choice
When one signs up for lifetime validity, he foregoes the option of switching over to another network. "Locking yourself into a scheme may not work for you if call charges come down in the future, which is likely to happen," says Mahesh Uppal, a Delhi-based telecom consultant. So, it is better to keep your options open instead of locking yourself into lifetime validity with just one service provider, & that too at a rate higher than the prevailing charges.

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