How to make cheap phone calls to India

12 July 2009

This is a review I did in 2009 when calling India was harder, and I was a graduate student. I am still Rebtel and Localphone happy customer - Rebtel's smartphone apps are better.

Today I would like to review the best ways of making cheapest phone calls to India. I have been in California for almost a year now, and I call my friends and family back home often, and talk for extended periods of time. So I am always in the lookout for the most cost effective ways to route these telephone calls.

There are multiple ways to call these days. One can use calling cards, VOIP – [PC-to-Phone VOIP like Skype, Yahoo], [PC-to-PC Voip like any instant messenger Yahoo, MSN, GTalk etc], [Phone-to-PC voip - Skype again], [Mobile/Phone-VOIP network-Phone has LOTS of players], and ofcourse you can directly make international calls and be ripped off (I have done it and those were the most expensive phone calls of my life, ever). In this post I will not comment on the services where you get a VOIP telephone and make calls (like Vonage), as I have never used them myself. Reason being that I am mostly on the move, and also because I love to talk while walking! So, lets talk about the best way to call India!

The calling card/VOIP market is pretty crowded, and I have tried many of them. Some of them are well known Indian brands like Airtel and Reliance. Which rip people off, because brand. Then there were companies like Jaxtr, Pingo, Rebtel, Localphone, Yahoo and Skype.

For me top factors for choosing any service are -

  • Cost (ofcourse!)
  • Voice quality (No use paying if you just hear mumbles)
  • Convenience (Calling home should be easy)

For the first few months here, I stuck to Airtel and Reliance.

  • They offered some decent first user discounts, but I was not aware that they were ripping me off. Both of them have really crappy customer care which takes weeks to send back zero information replies.
  • Airtel comes out with lots of different offers that seem nice at first, like 1cent per minute, but these are mostly marketing tactics to lure users. For the 1cent per minute offer the cheapest plan was for 10$ which would give you a talk time of 6$ at 1cent/minute, and would last for only a day or two. WHAT? So you pay 10$ to get 600 minutes that is 10 hours of calls to be used in just 2 days. That’s definitely more than 1cent / minute, and worthless unless you plan to do all the talking for a month in a weekend ! They have had many other sugar-coated plans like this.
  • My other crib about Airtel/Reliance is the convenience of making calls. They have pretty crappy user-interfaces (IVRS), that ensure you can not call your friend without really listening to their messages. Other players like Rebtel, Localphone do much better.
  • They also SPAM my email inbox with their offer mails, I have tried unsubscribing, but they just wouldn’t stop!
  • Also, on many weekends/festivals/holidays, I faced the problems of dropped calls and busy lines. So they charge you more, do not offer convenience of calling, drop calls and have a bad customer care :-) Lets move on with the review!

Soon after this, I moved on to PC-to-Phone players – Yahoo, Skype and Localphone.

  • Yahoo had pretty good offers, but their call quality is pretty bad. So I would not recommend them. Strangely, right now they have increased their call rates to India to an obscenely high 7.9cents/minute!!!
  • Skype offers pretty good UI, and excellet call quality. They are a well known brand, however, their costs for calling countries other than Europe/America are pretty high compared to other PC-to-Phone players, so I did not continue using them.
  • Localphone - Excellent! Very competitive rates and very good VOIP softphone (that’s what the software for making PC-to-Phone calls via VOIP networks is called). I used their service for a long time, with no problems and never having to contact the customer service. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Later, I got bored of making PC-to-Phone calls, as that limited my mobility. So soon after getting my cell phone, and tried the services like Jaxtr, Pingo, Localphone and Rebtel.

  • Jaxtr - I got some free minutes from them, but did not like their voice quality much. So did not try them further.
  • Pingo - I committed a grave mistake by paying them 25$ in one go, without trying a single call with them. They had some tempting offers like half the rate on Tuesdays or something. Turned out that the voice quality was so bad (worst of all the providers I tried), that I did not want to use their offers!
  • Rebtel - I tried their first free call, and was most impressed by their voice quality. They allow new users to have half the normal calling rate for their first recharge. So the rate for me came to be around 2.9cents/minute (that’s around 1.4 INR/minute, competitive with the rate for long distance calls within India!). They also have really nice user interface online, and the best feature is that they give US numbers for your contacts in India. When I call that number, it is directly connected to my contact in India! This way, I do not have to go through the hassel of entering a PIN code, and remembering any phone numbers at all. This can be set up online, and changes are reflected instantly. Other cool feature is that it is possible to call people in some countries like UK, England for absolutely free using Rebtel! I never used this feature, so am not so sure how it works. They also offer 10$ bonus talktime when any of your referred friend joins. However, if you want to continue getting the 2.9cent rate, you have to do recharges of above 25$ (I do not remember the exact amount). Also, they do not have a softphone interface. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Localphone - This is my favourite service. They have everything that Rebtel has, plus they have soft-phone interface, plus they offer the low rate of 2.5cents/minute (that is 1.2 INR/minute!) on ANY recharge value (lowest being 5$). I have been using Localphone since almost 4 months now, with no complaints. They offer the best quality, lowest calling card rates for India! THE BEST

Some more tips -

  • Whenever trying out a provider, buy their smallest plan, which is mostly worth 5-10$. This way, you are not stuck with a service you do not like.
  • Most of the providers have auto-recharge facility. Make sure you uncheck this facility when just trying out a provider, you can always turn it on later.
  • If offered, do try the first free call (many providers have such offers), to see the voice quality of actual calls. I saved myself from some lousy providers this way.

References: VOIP InfoFreeVcallsAirtel – Callhome Reliance – Globalcall PingoJaxtrYahooSkypeRebtelLocalphone

PS: Post after a long, long time! Sorry for the “cheap” title :-D Just doing some optimizations for search engines!