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Indian telcos giving away services as customers fear going outside to top up their accounts

Over 150 million people given freebies or generous top-up deals

Indian telcos are giving away services to help clients who don’t want to leave home during a savage second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Market leader Jio announced on Friday that it would give all users of its JioPhone ten minutes a day of free outbound phone calls “for the entire period of the pandemic” to customers unable to recharge their credit due to COVID-19. Customers will also get double the amount of data and talk when they do recharge.

Jio is though to have sold over 100 million JioPhones, so this is a substantial offer.

Number two telco Bharti Airtel has also made a pandemic offer, promising a free ₹49 (US$0.66) plan to 55 million of its low-income clients. The plan includes 100MB of data and around half an hour of talk time. The carrier has also doubled the inclusions in its ₹79 plan, which now offers 400MB of data to be used with 28 days, plus talk time.

The offers are needed because while India is not in lockdown, residents are advised to stay at home whenever possible. Shopping for a recharge voucher is therefore an activity many Indians are keen to avoid, but also something many may not be able to afford at present. While recharges are possible from a device, many Indians prefer cash or don’t have access to the payment services or banks that make online payments possible.

While generous and welcome for over one hundred million people larger numbers of Indian residents don’t own a mobile phone and lack access to quality healthcare at a time it’s needed more than ever as the nation's seven-day rolling average of COVID-related deaths and new cases of the disease have reached around 4,000 and 350,000 respectively. ®

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