It has been a couple of years since 3G data services were launched in India, and tariffs have largely coalesced around certain points. While we have done similar surveys in the past to find out the cheapest data plan in India among 3G operators, we did yet another to account for the tariff changes over the last one year.
The results are slightly surprising. For example, Reliance Communications has turned out to have the cheapest data plan in India in the sweet-spot of 1 GB and 2 GB of 3G data per month, while MTNL retains its lead in Delhi and Mumbai (and indirectly in other areas through BSNL) in large volume data packs.
Another interesting finding is that the 3G data cost of the top three operators – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, are about 40-100% higher than those of the others in most segments (click on the chart below to expand).
Aircel, which is present in 3G circles like Karnataka, has emerged as the operator with the cheapest data plans in the low-use category of 100 MB to 300 MB, while Reliance Communications takes the torch forward in the medium-use segment between 500 MB to 2 GB.
After that, the price leadership remains with MTNL, but only because of its 6-month and 12-month data packs which cost Rs 4500-5000 each. If you are not willing to shell out Rs 4,500 or Rs 5,000 at one go, the best offers are available from Aircel, BSNL and surprisingly, from Tata DoCoMo.
Tata DoCoMo, which used to have the costliest 3G plans in India at one time, now offers data plans that are about 40-50% cheaper than what the big three operators offer till the 6 GB per month mark.
For most users who use 1-2 GB of 3G data a month, Reliance Communications offers the best value for money thanks to two of its combo plans – Rs 247 per month for 1 GB and Rs 448 per month for 2 GB. While the prices look expensive, keep in mind that the first recharge gives you 150 free talk time in addition to 3G data, while the second one gives you Rs 300 talk time in addition to the data plan.
However, it must be kept in mind that Reliance Communications’ 3G network coverage is poorer than that of Airtel and Vodafone, which themselves have patchy 3G coverage.
The chart to calculate the cheapest data plan takes into account only those recharges that have a validity of 15 days or above. It also arrived at the cheapest rate sometimes by using two vouchers (such as a 2 GB voucher and a 1 GB voucher to arrive at a 3 GB plan).
It must also be noted that most prepaid packs from Vodafone and Airtel last only 28 days, compared to 30 days from most others.
4G tariffs are generally higher than those of 3G.
It is also expected that tariffs will ease again, especially since Reliance Jio Infocomm has announced that it will be using the 1800 MHz spectrum it recently acquired to deploy LTE, and not GSM, services.