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Photon by TATA INDICOM - Larceny on a grand scale.

Tata Indicom Photon + DO NOT BUY ONE, see below

India is not a backward country in terms of telecommunications. There are loads of satellite channels on the TV, and there are numerous mobile telephone companies competing for your business. You do not have to walk far down any road before you will come to a store that will offer local, long distance, and international telephone calls at a fixed, metered, rate. While not quite as common, there are also internet cafes that allow access to the web for a modest fee. Keeping in touch should not be a major issue for the traveller to India.

On my first visit to India, I had chosen to purchase an Indian SIM card to use in an unlocked mobile phone. This gave me an Indian (+91) telephone number, and of course, I could be contacted at any time provided that I was carrying the phone, and that it was switched on. I was, perhaps, fortunate that I bought this SIM card from a REPUTABLE company (Airtel), via one of their REPUTABLE agents.

You will wonder why I have laid such heavy emphasis on the word REPUTABLE. I will explain. Buying almost anything of any significance in India generates masses of paperwork. If you are involved in any kind of extended visit, it might be as well to invest in a heat shield for your passport because you will be whipping it out of your pocket/rucksack/manbag with such frequency that it will get friction burns. I have no problem with the paperwork, as such. A significant proportion of India’s estimated 1.5 billion population are involved in its administration, and in an economy where you either work, or beg, work of any kind keeps the money going round.

I have even less problem with the monitoring of mobile phone/internet access. India is in the middle of a terrorist activity area and it makes some sense to make a token effort to try and ensure that you know the name and address of a call originator/receiver. Except it doesn’t, of course, because your hardened terrorist is hardly likely to queue up at the local mobile phone store, complete with a valid ID, and his father’s pension book to guarantee that there are the funds available to ensure that the bill will get paid. Nevertheless, I do understand that there will be some serious paperwork before an individual is allowed mobile communication facilities.

It seems to me, therefore, that in this environment, if you want to sell mobile communications, you will  ensure that the AGENT selling the service on your behalf will be encouraged to ensure that the paperwork is completed correctly. The Airtel AGENT, from whom I bought my mobile SIM, made just such an effort, and my Airtel mobile phone worked perfectly throughout my two visits to India over the winter. Therefore the £10 I paid UPFRONT to the Airtel AGENT for the SIM was excellent value, and I also managed a number of seamless top-ups at other Airtel AGENTS that maintained my phone credit throughout my stay.

On my second visit to India, I took a netbook computer. Initially, I used it to compose blog posts, which I transferred to a memory stick, and then moved on to an internet café to post my pithy comments, wit and wisdom.  Then I saw an advert for the Tata Indicom Photon + mobile phone dongle that would enable internet communication directly from my netbook. Now to many, me included, the Indian internet café is a godsend. However, they do tend to be rather small, they will have crammed in 50% more workstations than the area can comfortably maintain, and the software available will range from Windows 98, through to the normal XP, with the occasional Windows 7 if you hit the jackpot. It will be extremely hot in there, and there will always be a 6’7” Russian with a beard, talking extremely loudly to his extended family in a snowbound Moscow suburb, via Skype. The Indian internet café is extremely useful, but it is not the ideal environment from which to tackle an  Open University creative writing course. Thus the initial attraction of the Tata Indicom Photon +. I could sit in my air conditioned hotel room, sipping an ice cold beer, and internet away to my hearts content.

Typical Indian Internet Cafe

Now you buy (or, hopefully as a result of this article, you don’t), a Tata Indicom Photon exactly the same way as you would buy a highly recommended Airtel SIM card. You take yourself off to a Tata Indicom AGENT and you take with you every conceivable piece of paper that even vaguely relates to yourself, or your stay in India. Obviously, passport, visa, and a photograph. Less obviously, proof of UK address,  and proof of Indian address. Do not bugger about . If in any doubt at all, take it with you. Laundry bills, flight tickets, money exchange vouchers, bus tickets, and the phone numbers of your top three taxi drivers. Take the lot, and also take your ‘lucky’ beer bottle top which you can keep in your pocket and rub occasionally when the process becomes particularly arduous. You can budget on it taking at least half a day.

Now I know the drill. I even decided not to go to the local Tata Indicom AGENT, but to take myself off to the biggest computer store in Panaji, the Goan capital. Thus I paid an extra 600 rupees (£9) for a taxi to take me, and my rucksack full of paperwork, to what I assumed to be the PREMIER TATA INDICOM AGENT in all of Goa. If you are going to do a job, do it properly.

This is quite important because what you are buying is a Pay As You GO service. You will have to buy the dongle, AND you will have to part with money to prepay for the service itself. In my case, this amounted to 4,000 rupees (£60). Now, I don’t care who you are, £60 is not an insignificant amount of money. In India, it is a HUGE amount of money. A day’s labour can be bought in India for a few hundred rupees, so 4,000 rupees represents a lot of work. Thus, you hand over the 4,000 rupees to the Tata Indicom AGENT in the reasonable expectation that the Tata Indicom AGENT will ensure that the Tata Indicom paperwork will be correctly completed to whatever standard Tata Indicom require. It shouldn’t be that difficult, I had provided every conceivable piece of documentary evidence that anyone could ask for.

I have described the actual purchase process in another post, so I won’t go through it again. In hindsight, the guy was a clown. In other words, I can only assume that the Tata Indicom AGENT, in the biggest computer store in Panjim, the capital of Goa, cannot manage to complete the Tata Indicom paperwork correctly.

Now this is what happened. The Photon + worked perfectly for four or five days. Then, some paperwork shuffler at Tata Indicom arbitrarily switched the service off. I got a ‘service barred’ message on my computer. I rang the ‘helpline’ number on the box, and it was completely useless. English is the unifying language of India, and the official language of government. Thus I was surprised to be greeted with a stream of Hindi when I pressed the ‘English’ button on the helpline.

I tend to be a bit of a ‘slow-burn’ individual. Normally, the fuse splutters for a while and the situation resolves itself, and the fuse goes out. But not even I know exactly how long that fuse is, and it occasionally hits the powder keg. I walked down into Calengute and talked to the local Tata Indicom AGENT. I really should have bought the thing from them in the first place. They were sympathetic, but it obviously wasn’t their problem. But what they did do was give me a real, live, telephone number to get through to Tata Indicom.

So, I walked back to my hotel room and used my EXCELLENT AIRTEL phone to call Tata Indicom. It wasn’t obviously the right Tata Indicom phone number, but after having been transferred a few times, I got through to the right guy. He told me that my service had been cut off because my UK address was, ‘very, very, wrong’. We then had a very long conversation about my UK address, about the fact that I had lived there for 15 years, and the fact that I knew it was very, very, right, and that I had provided proof of address when I bought the Tata Indicom service. He was adamant that my UK address was ‘very, very, wrong’, and that if I resubmitted my details to the original store they would switch me back on within 72 hours.

Not good enough Tata Indicom. I have one or two points that I would make to you. I submitted a British passport as part of my application, and of which you have a photocopy. Now, a British passport  might not be worth what it once was, but it does indicate that I have been looked at by the British government, and that they are satisfied that I am who I say I am. Furthermore, that British passport contained a valid Indian visa, of which you also have a photocopy. This indicates that I have been looked at by YOUR Indian government, and they are also happy that I am who I say I am. I provided proof of local Indian address, and my UK address, to YOUR agent when I bought YOUR ‘service’ and handed over 4,000 rupees of my hard earned money to PAY YOU to provide it.

So, somewhere within the Tata Indicom business there is a paperwork scrutiniser. This scrutiniser knows more than the British government, not difficult, I agree. But this scrutiniser also knows more than the Indian government, which seems disloyal, to say the least. Either that, or the whole ‘sell Tata Indicom Photon + to foreigners’ is a gigantic scam perpetrated by you, Tata Indicom, in collusion with your AGENTS. Personally, I think it is the latter, and you have stolen 4,000 rupees from me, and you are nothing better than common thieves and robbers.

Now then, Tata Indicom, what next?. Should you decide to investigate, the number of the Photon + that I bought from you is 9270356377. That should be all that you need. Go for it, prove to me that you are not common thieves and robbers. I will send a link to this page to your complaints department.

In the meantime, I will advise anyone visiting India NOT TO BUY A TATA INDICOM PHOTON + because, based on my experience, you will provide all of the information asked for, and the service will be withdrawn for the flimsiest of ‘reasons’. You will lose your money.