Ever since TRAI made it mandatory for cellular operators to continue providing incoming voice calls and SMS to pre-paid subscribers even after the talk-time value is exhausted, the pre-paid segment is poised for a quick growth; intense competition in the market has forced telecom companies to constantly evolve and differentiate from the rest of the pack. First it was Hutch with eTopUp services and now AirTel has embarked on an aggressive market expansion campaign – Aisee Azadi Aur Kahan.
December 23, 2003 witnessed cellular operator Hutch launching a Voucherless pre-paid refill services – eTopUp – which will enable its subscribers to get instant recharge of a denomination of choice by walking into any of the Hutch shops in the city, without having to buy a recharge coupon. “eTopUp will replace refill slips, leading to faster transfer of talktime as there would be no physical distribution of coupons,” states Rajiv Sahwney, Executive Director, Hutchison Essar Telecom. In addition, Hutch subscribers would also be able to recharge their connection while roaming across any of the eleven Hutch circles, a move aimed at reducing the inconvenience of carrying recharge coupons while travelling across the country.
AirTel has followed suit. Under its new ‘Easy Charge’ scheme, AirTel has launched a range of customer-friendly initiatives. The entry cost of recharge has been brought down from Rs 300 to Rs 50, the lowest in the prepaid category. Airtel customers can now top up their prepaid cards with any denomination suiting their budget. Prepaid customers would also be able to recharge their cards while roaming in any of the 15 AirTel networks; all they have to do is walk into an ‘Easy Charge’ outlet and recharge their prepaid cards. Alternatively, they have the advantage of buying a ‘National Recharge Coupon’ of any value; the coupon can be bought from any Airtel retail outlet across any of the 15 AirTel networks.
AirTel has also tied up with handset manufacturers Motorola and Samsung. A Samsung mobile phone with AirTel connection will come for Rs 3,999, which includes free airtime of Rs 2,000. Similarly, a Motorola phone would be available for Rs 3,299 with free airtime of Rs 1,800. On the new initiatives, Manoj Kohli, President Mobility, Bharti Tele-ventures comments, “Prepaid category has always been the real engine for the unprecedented growth of the Indian mobile market. Time has now come to further charge up this segment. The onus is on the mobile operators to innovate and provide never-before offers.”
According to an AC Neilson study, Airtel emerged as the largest selling pre-paid mobile SIM card in the country. Behind Airtel is Hutch, followed by Idea and BPL Mobile cards. Significantly, 60-70% of the cellular subscribers are on a pre-paid platform. The most popular SIM cards are in the Rs 300 to Rs 499 range.