Cell phones (“mobiles”) are pervasive in Bangalore, and in most urban areas of India. (iPhones go on sale here at end of August.) One can find tiny shops everywhere that offer “top-up” services to add more rupees to your prepaid cell plan. Getting a SIM card, however, is a lot of work!
The first day, we tried to arrange for cell-phone service. Unfortunately, because of concerns about terrorism, one cannot simply buy a SIM card like you do in Europe. You must present proof of residency and identification, because each SIM card (and its phone number) must be registered to a named person.
This week, I took a letter from the department chair attesting to our residency, and our passports, to one of the many phone shops downtown. I had to fill out a lengthy form, listing both my US and India address, passport number, and attach photocopies of my passport, NH driver’s license, and letter of residency. Unfortunately, I had not brought photocopies. The shop owner sent his “boy” to photocopy them. Not wanting to let go of my passport, I tagged along. We went outside, across the street, up the road, and down a muddy, trashy alleyway to a tiny shop that provides a photocopier, telephones, and internet terminals for a few rupees. All this paperwork must be filed with Airtel, and effectively, with the government, before my phone is ready to us.
Cell service is inexpensive: 1 rupee (2.5 cents) per minute to anywhere in India, and a penny to send an SMS within India. Incoming calls are totally free.