Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fun with Vodafone India

This is the only logo in this post..
One of the things we've decided to do in countries where we'll spend a bit of time, is to get local sims for our phones.
In Thailand, it was a breeze..
However, in Kolkata, India, the story was a bit different...

Some might liken the story to that of The Lord Of The Rings, where our heroes go on an epic quest. We won't be that pretentious, though, but our own little quest sure became a lot more epic than we'd initially thought.

We thought, having just come from Thailand, that it might be as simple as just rocking up to a mobile provider, asking for a prepaid sim, paying and getting the sim installed and activated in our phone.

Nooooo, this is India! Things don't work like you expect.

So our first hurdle was to find a provider. We'd found (ok, Naomi had found) a nice modern mall - South City Mall - near our hotel, so we jumped in a cab and headed there.
This was our first taxi ride (not counting the hotel pickup from the airport) in India, and it was terrifying!! I'd thought the taxi ride in Shanghai was scary (the cab driver thought he was in a F1 race) - but that was nothing compared to Kolkata. Here, they drive as fast as they can, ignoring most red lights (honking the horn on the way through), making any space in the traffic into their 'lane' and missing motorcycles, pedestrians and road barricades by centimetres...

And they all drive this way, not just the cabbies!

Anyway, we survived the taxi ride, and although the adrenaline rushing through my system was kinda fun, the sight we were met with was a downer: the shopping centre was closed.

The cabbie, who had said something in Bengali before we set off, now repeated the words, with some helpful sign-language. "Closed", said my internal subtitling system, kicking into gear far too late.

"For Holi?", we asked. A headwobble in reply, which seemed to mean agreement.
He went on, in Bengali (or possibly Hindi, who knows..) to explain that the center is closed until 5pm (or was it for 5 more hours?).
We changed plans, and got him to take us to the Victoria Memorial, a sightseeing sight. We'd continue with our mobile phone plans the next day.

The following day, we asked the hotel reception clerk whether the mall would be open.
They told us it would be, but we decided to go in the afternoon, just to maximise our chances.

More crazy cab rides, and eventually we got there and it was open.
Passing through the security checkpoint (metal detectors and plenty of security guards), we entered airconditioned comfort.

We found the Vodafone store - we'd actually not decided which carrier to use, and so Vodafone was picked by virtue of being the first one spotted - and entered.
We got a number from the queue-number dispenser, and waited.

Aaaand waited...

And, you guessed it, waaaaited...

No seats, not much indication of progress. Lots of staff, but also lots of customers.
But still, when a nearby Indian gentleman commented to me that it was "very slow", we knew it wasn't just us impatient foreign types..

Eventually, after standing and waiting for over an hour, we got served.
We had to provide a lot of documents, but had done enough research to bring everything with us.
We needed:

  • Passport (They made copies of id page and visa page)
  • Passport photos
  • Contact details for an Indian contact (we used the hotel manager)
Once that was done, we were finally given a sim - a full-sized sim... but we need micro and nano sims for our phones..?
We would need to activate the sims in a phone that can accept them (an old POS phone, in other words), then come back again to get replacement sims..

Aaaargh!!!

So, given that the activation time was at least 4 hours, and we didn't have old phones, we left, to return the following day.

The next day, we got back in the early afternoon, and when we asked to activate the sims using their phone (which we'd asked about the previous day), we were told that there was a system issue and the activations were still in a queue... I pictured a bunch of Vodafone sysadmins desperately restoring service to the appropriate server somewhere..
The woman helping us was much more competent than the guy from the previous day, so we felt we had a chance to pull this off. She assured us she would do everything she could to fast-track our activations, and if we ran out of time, would refund us (as we were leaving for Darjeeling the next day).

So, we had to wait, again. We decided to just hang out in the mall, and eat and window-shop for a few hours. Time passed...slowly...

Eventually, we checked back, and the system had caught up. There was an issue with one of the activations, it had been rejected by the system, so the clerk got her boss to push the turbo button on the activation of another sim.
Finally, we got the full-sized sims activated, then the replacement micro and nano sims, too.
They would take "a few hours" to kick in, but we were assured that we wouldn't need to return to the store.

True to her word, the sims became active, and Vodafone started spamming us with SMSes and automated phone calls galore.

(So nice to have dealt with someone who gets things done, after dealing with her sloth-like colleague the previous day!!)

There were about a dozen activation SMSes per phone, so that drove us a little nuts.
But the calls are still going - if we go a day without one from Vodafone, it's a good day. ..

We headed to Darjeeling, where we'd been told that we'd be in roaming mode, but that data should work ok at no additional expense.

Naomi's iphone worked fine. Vodafone clearly doesn't like Android phones, or at least not my HTC One X, as the data connection plain didn't work. Boo...

Days later, in Nepal, I thought "Hang on, I bet there's an Access Point setting missing or something" - did a search (while on wifi) for the settings for Vodafone India, and found some forum posts with suggested settings. I entered these into my phone, but being outside India, had to wait to test them.

When we finally re-entered India, they didn't work. Hmm..

OK, let's keep trying - I found the Vodafone India FAQ page for data connections (click "Need Manual Internet Settings?" at the top) and entered the settings exactly as shown, which involved renaming the AP profile. Bam! It started working!
The magic of correct settings!!

So now we both have data (Google Maps, anyone!!??) while we are roaming around India.
Huzzah!!

We've ordered pizza and called hotels on the phones, and it's all good.
Internet on the phone is typically painfully slow, but sometimes we get ok 3G speeds.
Good enough for Maps and the occasional Facebook post..