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More and more poor in India are buying cell phones

March 8, 2007

These cell phone penetration figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India speak for themselves:

The total wireless segment added 6.81 million during Jan 2007 as compared to 6.48 in Dec 2006. At the end of Jan 2007, the total wireless (GSM, CDMS, WLL-F) subscribers were 156.31 million.

But when one actually sees this phenomenon, it hits you. A few years ago when my sabziwali (vegetable seller) got herself a cell phone she was the talk of the market. Today, everyone has a cell phone and now she doesn’t bother to flash it around. Why, if my maid is expecting an urgent call, she casually carries her family cell with her, a phone that is usually doubles as a land line. Works out cheaper than a landline as there is no deposit required. All you need are your identification papers and a couple of thousand rupees (even less if you buy a second hand mobile phone) which you can pay in installments and viola – you get your connection!

I always believed that the poor would not be able to use the SMS facility, hampered by the fact that the letters were in English (most people do not have the Hindi enabled option) but how wrong I was! Whether they have a knowledge of English or not, people SMS in English, and they also know exactly who is calling them! Apparently there is a code language. As it says here:

Every time autorickshaw driver Ameer Jan’s cellphone rings and he sees the letters MM on his screen, his face lights up. He pulls his three-wheeler towards the kerb and says, “Ha Amma, tell me…”
Ameer Jan — a school dropout who can decipher the English alphabet and no more — has other signs of recognising who’s calling: BB for wife, DD for Didi… Phonebook records here contain alphabets used as codes, hieroglyphs if you please, marking the reverse of the evolution from signs to letters…

Some of the other creative acronyms are DD for Didi, B+ for elder brother, GG for Ghar (Home), DUK for Dukaan (shop) and SAL for Sala (Brother-in-law). In fact in Ranchi in Bihar which has one of the poorest literacy rates, many of those who have never gone to school have picked up not just the English alphabet, but have learnt English words – all because of their cell phone ownership.

…vegetable vendor Mohammed Shamim, has already learnt words like ‘menu’, ‘call’, ‘recieve’ and ’silent’. He is proud of his newfound knowledge of English and feels confident that soon he will pick up suffcient English for rudimentary communication

No wonder the old traditional means of communication, the famous telegram so often the harbinger of bad news in Bollywood films is dying. The state of Himachal Pradesh has decided to scrap it.

The state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has finally decided to stop telegram services in almost all centres across Himachal Pradesh, with the coming of newer communication technologies like emails, mobile phones and fax.

Is it any wonder then that the gross (both land line and cell phone) telephone subscribers in the country have reached 196.71 million in Jan 2007 as compared to 189.93 million in Dec 2006? And that overall tele-denisity has reached 17.45 in Jan 2007 as compared to 17.16 in Dec 2006?
Whats heart warming is that in just one year tele-density in India has grown by more than 65 per cent. It was just 12 percent in Jan 2006 and is now almost 18 percent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2007 4:27 pm

    The number may be huge but soon there is going to be a huge problem of network congestion.It is already present in some networks like BSNL during peak hours (8PM to 10PM). With
    call rates slashing to as low as a rupee, this is bound to come up.

  2. May 6, 2008 6:10 pm

    How do the poor pay their cell phone bills? I’m saying is it a monthly charge, prepaid, and where do they go?

    It’s always pre-paid as one can survive for a month as incoming calls are free. The minimum payment I think varies but usually it’s about Rs 200/- Nita.

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