Tech Report: Mobile Phone Networks in India and Sri Lanka

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By: leelefever on April 2, 2006 - 2:18am

Dear normal readers, this is a post for folks interested in the geeky aspects of using mobile devices internationally. Please excuse the jargon and acronyms.

A big part of our trip is experimenting with mobile phones in each country. Specifically, we want to be able to post to the TwinF site using our Treo 650 Smartphone. When we arrive in a new country we get a new SIM card and a prepay account, which gives us a local phone number and a non-roaming connection to the local network.

It's likely no surprise that the world, what we've seen anyway, is mobile crazy. Surely one of the most pervasive products in any village is prepaid recharge cards. We've found that coverage is generally strong and there are multiple networks in nearly every location, including the high country of Sri Lanka. Below are our experiences in India and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka has GSM and CDMA is apparently "coming soon". The major networks are Mobitel and Dialog GSM on the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. Both GPRS and MMS are available. To get started with a new SIM card and 400 rupees of prepaid service costs about $20US. We could not get the Treo 650 to connect to GPRS, though it is supposed to be possible. If you have problems, you must go to a phone store in either Colombo or Kandy. My advice is to make sure you get the GPRS settings when you get the SIM card. It was frustrating and time consuming to try to get GPRS settings to work in Sri Lanka.


India is pretty advanced with mobile technology. They have both GSM and CDMA and the networks support both MMS and GPRS using the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. The major networks are Hutch and Airtel, with Airtel being the first and biggest. It costs about $15US to get started with a new SIM card and prepaid minutes. India has some of the cheapest phone rates in the world with calls costing less than $.02US per minute.

In India, note that if you travel across state lines, you may not recharge (top up) your prepay account with a voucher from a store- you must visit a phone store. This was the case with the Hutch Network. Also, I had to visit a Hutch store in order to get GPRS set up properly.

SMS is very popular in both India and Sri Lanka- and is the cheapest way to communciate. By providing our mobile number to the airline, we get flight status updates via SMS for free. One of the drawbacks of it is what I would call SMS spam from the networks who constantly send offers for new services and plans.

Anyone with an unlocked GSM phone should have no problem using a prepaid account in Sri Lanka or India.

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By: Wei Tseng (not verified) on July 14, 2006 - 6:45am
Thanks Lee for your reply to my email. I'll be susbcribing to this section of your site as well to see how the Treo works in all the different areas. Like I said, I plan on using mobile blogging for my RTW trip next year as well and any lessons/tips learned from you is much appreciated! Cheers, Wei