World ? Asia ? India

India: Staying Connected

Phone numbers in India change at the drop of a hat, and businesses are slow in updating contact information, including websites.

To call India:

1. Dial the international access code: 011 (from the U.S. and Canada); 00 (from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand); or 0011 (from Australia).

2. Dial the country code: 91.

3. Dial the city code, omitting the first zero.

4. Dial the telephone number.

Note: To call a cellphone number in India, follow up to step 2 above and then dial the 10-digit cellphone number, which should begin with "9."

Making calls within India: Hotel telephone costs are exorbitant, even when you make a domestic long-distance call. All over India, you'll see yellow ISD/STD signs indicating a privately operated "International Subscriber Dialing" and "Standard Trunk Dialing" facility; these are very reasonably priced. Your call is monitored by a computer system, and you pay at the end of your session. Make sure you have the correct phone number with you -- and check that the phone is in a quiet spot, or you run the risk of not hearing a word during your conversation. To call a mobile phone number that is not in the city in which you are based, dial "0" before the 10-digit number. Note that the Indian toll-free numbers (1/800) cannot be dialed from cellphones and land lines that don't belong to the MTNL or BSNL networks.

Making calls from cellphones: When making calls from cellphones, you'll need to punch in the full area code of the city and telephone number irrespective of where you are calling from. In other words, even if you are in Mumbai and want to call the city's Taj Mahal Hotel, you'd need to dial 022/6665-3366 from your cellphone. To call a cellphone number within a city, just dial the 10-digit cellphone number; to call a cellphone outside your city, add a "0" before the number.

To make international calls: Dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., dial tel. 00-1-202-588-7800.

For directory assistance: Dial tel. 197 if you're looking for a local number within India, and dial tel. 183 for long-distance numbers within India. Don't hold your breath for accurate or up-to-date assistance, and speak slowly and clearly. There's also every chance you won't be able to get through to the number at all, or that your question will not be correctly answered. In the "Fast Facts" sections for some cities you'll find listed numbers for private, talking Yellow Pages services; these are more helpful in giving up-to-date information.

For operator assistance: If the phone you're using is not an International Subscriber Dialing (ISD) facility, you'll need operator assistance and must dial tel. 186. Using an ISD facility without the need for an operator will save you a great deal of time. Toll-free numbers: To call a 1-800 number in the U.S. from India, first contact the international operator through the Direct Access service. For a call to the U.S., call tel. 000-117 (AT&T Direct Access), which gives you an AT&T operator, through whom you can make your toll-free or collect call. Note, however, that these Direct Access calls cannot be made from everywhere; to ensure you won't be charged for the call, check with your hotel before dialing.

Cellphones

The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use worldwide. GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high.

If you are carrying your own phone make sure it has been "unlocked" by the provider. Then, pick up a cheap, prepaid phone SIM card at a mobile phone store or at tens of thousands of shops throughout the length and breadth of India, and slip it into your phone. SIM cards usually cost Rs 100 ($2/ţ1) or less. To get a SIM card you will need a copy of your passport, a passport-size photo, and another form of ID. You'll get a local phone number, and much, much lower calling rates and free or very cheap incoming calls. Then you can refill your talk time by purchasing a prepaid refill when you need it. Note that if you don't have a compatible phone, you can buy a decent cellphone for Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 ($49-$98/ţ25-ţ49) in India -- buy from an authorized dealer who will give you a receipt and warranty. Later, when you leave the country, you can usually sell the phone for half what you paid for it at a local vendor dealing in secondhand phones, found everywhere in Delhi and Mumbai. Alternatively, you can buy a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) prepaid phone in India. Reliance IndiaMobile (www.relianceinfo.com) and Tata Indicom (www.tataindicom.com) offer countrywide network, and you can pick up a low-end phone for under Rs 3,000 ($73/ţ34). Note, however, that some low-end phones have difficult-to-use software; the most user-friendly ones are usually Nokia models. Once you have this phone, you can prepay a balance, and refill it when necessary. Phone calls are charged at Rs 1 to Rs 2.50 (5Ţ/5p) per minute within India and Rs 6 to Rs 17 (15Ţ-40Ţ/7p-20p) per minute for international calls. The disadvantage of the CDMA is that once you are ready to go home, the phone has no value and has to be discarded.

Though you can rent a phone in India, because of security reasons, mobile phone rental is currently not widely available; you'll need copies of your passport and go through other security checks, as well as make a hefty deposit. Most five-star hotels will rent a phone to you at a fairly high rate. In Mumbai you can also call Colorama Centre (tel. 022/2204-0362), located in the Hilton Towers hotel. You'll pay just Rs 50 ($1/60p) per day for the handset, and you can buy and refill talk time as you require, after purchasing a new SIM card. Matrix offers cellular services to international customers in most of the larger cities (toll-free in India: tel. 800/11-1500; www.matrix.in); you can also get your SIM card in advance overseas (U.K.: tel. 797/391-1620; U.S.: tel. 215/359-6974).

Internet/E-Mail

Without Your Own Computer -- To find cybercafes in your destination check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com. Better still, you can ask your hotel to guide you to the nearest reliable cybercafe. All big cities in India and many small towns as well have a host of cybercafes.

With Your Own Computer -- More and more hotels, resorts, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hot spots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Most laptops sold today have built-in wireless capability. Wi-Fi facilities or dataports (and well-equipped business centers) are available in all luxury city hotels in India (as well as in many hotels outside city limits). Note that the electric current is 220-240 volts AC, and that different socket and plug standards are used in different parts of the country. Although good hotels usually have multi-socket units, you should consider bringing a universal adaptor (if you're unsure, call your hotel in advance to find out what the options are). Note that power outages are regular, as are variations in voltage, so be prepared for any eventuality.

For dial-up access, most business-class hotels throughout the world offer dataports for laptop modems.

Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.

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