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Adventures in Mobile Phones

Posted by anandrr on December 3, 2007

airtel 100ft road

The one truth about modern day India. Doing anything: getting a broadband card, getting a cell phone, getting a tax id card, requires, “One Id proof sir, one address proof and two passport size photographs.” Somewhere an unseen bureaucrat is amassing the world’s largest collection of photographs and corresponding names and addresses ever assembled, it’s an anthropologist’s dream. I right now have some 40 photographs and 10 copies of my passport lying in my backpack. Those guys with the photocopy shops and the passport photograph stores are making out like bandits.

This is also a country with some 100m+ cell phones in use. Every month an additional 8m are sold. One would think that getting a cellphone number and getting all set up would be easy. One would of course be wrong. First stop was the BSNL place. I was asked to submit a form with an id proof, an address proof, and two passport size photographs and wait 10 days for the SIM to be activated. Not entirely happy with this situation I repaired to the AirTel showroom. This is after all a private company, surely things would run along smoother and quicker? First he asked me to take a token and await my turn to speak with a sales guy. I then waited some 2 hours to speak to said sales guy. The sales guy assured me he would set me up with a phone number right away, and went on to get a form filled up by me (along with an id proof and address proof and photograph, natch), issued me a phone number, sim card and sent me off to go pay up some money and walk out with a phone. I go to the guy to pay up, and he assured me quite cheerfully that he couldn’t put any money in my sim card because the, “servers were down,” but he would be happy to sell me the sim card. I wasn’t really clear why I would need a sim card without any money on it, so I cursed him quite a bit for making me wait 2 and some hours just to tell me something he could have told me at the outset, “No cell phone for you!”

A quick observation here, this happened on a Monday morning. And there were all these people clearly waiting in line for a cell phone on a weekday. If each person who got a cell phone in India had at some point spent 2 hours getting one, can we talk about the lost productivity here? I believe an economist would point out that that is the exact problem. So many people in India work at such low productivity levels, that it is actually quite ok for them to spend two hours for a Rs 500 (US$ 10) transaction.

But there has got to be a business here. Think of the immense opportunity to streamline the flow. You walk up to a guy at a counter, he takes your passport, keys your name and address into his computer, his webcam takes a passport sized picture of you, he prints out a filled out form with all the details and your picture printed on it, you sign it, pay him for the sim card, and you’re off in under 10 minutes. The equipment pays for itself on the first 100 cards you sell, on the evidence of things about 3 days of operations. Just the interest of saving time should have customers beating a path down to your store. And yet, and yet…

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2 Responses to “Adventures in Mobile Phones”

  1. […] Adventures in Mobile Phones […]

  2. PS said

    > One Id proof sir, one address proof and two passport size photographs.

    I’m surprised you don’t know that similar requirements apply in Europe as well. In the UK, I was asked for proof of identity, proof of address and bank details to verify that my account had enough balance for the mobile phone co. to feel confident that I would pay my bills. I protested, but of course it didn’t work. Idiotic regulations are popular everywhere.

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