Telecom revolution, Jai Ho!

by Rama Kashyap

In telecommunications, India has made spectacular progress. Imagine more Indians today own cell phones than have access to toilets! From the humble dhobi, to the mali to the poor rickshaw-puller, they all own cellular phones. What a contrast it is when we look at the past —then there were only a few in the neighborhood who owned a telephone and one phone used to serve as ‘PP number’ to the whole lot of people living in the vicinity. Today almost everyone in the family owns a mobile. Even the domestic help comes equipped with a mobile phone.

Gone are the days when possessing a mobile phone used to be a status symbol. What a celebration it was when we acquired our first cellular phone in the mid-90s! The handset, purchased for a huge sum, was quite big and heavy in comparison to the small and sleek phones with umpteen features which are now flooding the market. Back then, the mobile set had ornamental value — a prized possession to be flaunted but rarely to be used. Unlike today when people are spending hours on mobiles, chatting on cell phones was unthinkable during those days. At Rs16 per minute call rates were exorbitant. No wonder, we were hesitant to make calls. Even the incoming calls were avoided because of the hefty charges on receiving calls.

Going back to the 80’s when the mobile phones had not made entry into the Indian market, having a fixed line itself was a luxury. For getting a telephone connection, there was a long wait stretching up to years. Only the rich and the privileged could boast of a telephone connection. Of course, it was another matter that quite often the dial tone was conspicuous by its absence and for days together the telephone could be ‘dead’. Even when the telephone was operational, there was no guarantee that one would be connected to the desired dialed number. Cross connections were quite common. Instead of being greeted by a ‘polite hello’, one could always expect to hear a curt ‘wrong number’ from the other end.

At that time making a long distance call was no less than an ordeal which required a lot of patience and persistent reminders to the telephone operator to get the call through. The ‘trunk call’, which had to be booked for making out-station calls, could take hours to materialise. One was lucky if one could get the call through, but any time, mid-way through the conversation the link could be snapped and the call would end unceremoniously. Where was the scope for leisurely talk? Most of the out-station calls resulted in a hurried telephonic conversation amidst audio disturbance.

What a remarkable progress has been made since then! Today connectivity is instant. There is no agonising wait. Voice quality is amazing. Call rates are down, just a fraction of rates in the past. Now even national roaming is set to become free. Telecom revolution, Jai Ho!

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