BSNL SIM Cards and eSIM 2024: a Comprehensive Guide for Tourists

This article is aimed at travelers visiting India who want to stay connected during their trip. Choosing between a BSNL SIM card & eSIM can be confusing, especially regarding availability and activation processes. This guide will shed light on how to acquire and activate both options, ensuring a smooth and connected journey in India.

BSNL India sim card
BSNL India sim card

I. Quick facts about BSNL

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is a state-owned telecommunications company in India, offering a wide range of telecom services across the country. So, BSNL is one of the best choice for tourists to buy a local sim card in India.

Established in the 21st century, it plays a crucial role in India’s telecom landscape, ensuring connectivity even in the most remote regions. Here are some facts about it.

  • Founded year: 2000
  • Full company name: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited
  • Service: Telecommunications (landline, mobile, internet)
  • Subscribers: Over 114M (as of March 2023)
  • Coverage: Pan-India, including both urban and rural areas
  • Stores and partners: Extensive network of BSNL outlets and partner stores across India
  • Customer support: Available through phone, email, online chat, and physical stores
  • Awards: Numerous awards over the years, including “Best PSU in Telecommunications” by SCOPE (2020-21)

II. India BSNL Coverage and Speed in India

This section will reveal the coverage and speed of BSNL in India. These 2 factors might affect your choice of BSNL while traveling to India. 

1. BSNL coverage in India

BSNL coverage map in India
BSNL coverage map in India (Source: nPerf)

BSNL, the state-owned telecom giant of India, boasts a pan-India presence, covering all 22 telecom circles. This translates to coverage in almost all major cities and towns, reaching over 90% of India’s population according to BSNL’s annual report (2022-23) 

Here’s a breakdown of key points regarding BSNL coverage:

  • Network Reach:
    • 2G: Covers over 95% of India’s geographical area.
    • 3G: Available in most major cities and towns, reaching over 70% of the population.
    • 4G: Currently covers over 50% of the population, with an ongoing expansion plan aiming to reach 80% by 2025.
  • 4G Expansion: The Government of India’s 4G saturation project, with an investment of ₹50,000 crore (US$6.2 billion), aims to bridge the gap in rural connectivity and significantly expand BSNL’s 4G reach, particularly in underserved areas.
  • 5G: According to recent reports, BSNL plans to launch 5G services starting in 2025.

While BSNL enjoys a wide footprint, it’s crucial to note that private players might offer stronger connectivity in certain pockets.

2. BSNL speed

BSNL speed map from OpenSignal
BSNL speed map from OpenSignal

BSNL recorded the lowest speeds among major operators in India, according to Opensignal’s October 2023 Mobile Network Experience Report. Here are some keynotes about BSNL speed:

  • Overall download speed: Lowest among major operators at 3.4 Mbps (compared to Jio’s 52.9 Mbps)
  • Overall upload speed: Slowest at 1.2 Mbps
  • Video experience: Poor (33.7 points out of 100), indicating frequent issues with streaming 720p video
  • Consistency: Last place with a score of 13.6%

In summary, BSNL lags significantly compared to private operators in India due to its considerably lower speeds and inconsistent performance. 

II. BSNL connectivity options for travelers to India

Staying connected in India is crucial for navigation, communication, and sharing experiences. BSNL, a major Indian telecom provider, offers various connectivity options for travelers. 

Here’s a breakdown of BSNL’s offerings to help you choose the best fit:

Connectivity OptionProsCons
BSNL Prepaid SIM Card– Affordable 
– Wide network coverage, especially in rural areas 
– Easy to obtain
– Activation process might require basic documentation 
– Top-up options might be limited outside major cities
Pocket Wi-Fi (rental)– Convenient to share data with multiple devices 
– Faster speeds compared to prepaid SIMs
– Limited data allowance 
– Not cost-effective for extended stays
Roaming (using your home network)No need for a new SIM or device– Exorbitantly expensive data charges 
– Limited or no network coverage in remote areas

Recommendation: Buying a prepaid BSNL SIM card is also the best choice while visiting India in most cases. 

III. Best BSNL SIM cards for Tourists & Cost

Good to know: 1 INR = 0,012 USD, 1 USD = 82,93 INR (March, 2024)

Plan NamePrice (INR)Price (USD)ValidityLocal & STD CallsSMSData
BSNL STV 18180.2226 days300 minutes1002GB
BSNL STV 75750.9130 daysUnlimited1001GB per day
BSNL STV 1471471.7835 daysUnlimited1002GB per day
BSNL STV 1851852.2442 daysUnlimited1003GB per day
BSNL STV 3993994.8470 daysUnlimited1004GB per day

Recommendations: 

  • Light User (Occasional calls, few messages, moderate data): BSNL STV 18 (affordable)
  • Moderate User (Regular calls, messages, fair data): BSNL STV 75 (unlimited calls)
  • Heavy User (Frequent calls, messages, significant data):
    • BSNL STV 147 or 185 (higher data allowance)
    • BSNL STV 399 (largest data, longest validity)

Note: Check BSNL's website for current plans and confirm data/call limits before purchase.

IV. Does BSNL India support eSIM?

Yes, BSNL does offer eSIM services in India. There are 2 main ways to acquire a BSNL eSIM:

  • Buying directly from BSNL: You can visit a BSNL store and request an eSIM. While the specific requirements might vary, you may typically need to present your passport for verification purposes.
  • Buying from an eSIM reseller/provider: This option is generally simpler, as most resellers wouldn’t require any identification documents from you.

For a smoother and faster experience, we recommend purchasing an eSIM through a reseller or provider. And Gigago has never been outside of the realm of reliable choices.

But it’s a pity that we have not cooperated with BSNL to provide reasonable eSIM packages due to its limited coverage and speed. But we have eSIM plans from Jio – the best carrier in India.

Gigago has various data plans, starting at 3GB for 30 days at $14.50 . The cool thing about Gigago’s India eSIM plans is they range from $14.50$29.90 , so there’s an option for everyone, no matter how much data you need or how long you’ll be in India.

gigago esim india
eSIM India by Gigago

V. Where can you buy a BSNL SIM card and eSIM?

The 2 main options for acquiring a BSNL connection are a traditional SIM card or a newer eSIM.

1. Where to buy BSNL SIM for India?

  • BSNL Customer Service Centers at airports (CSCs): Delhi, Mumbai,…
  • BSNL Franchise Stores
  • Authorized mobile retailers

2. Where to buy India BSNL eSIM?

  • BSNL official website
  • Third-party providers like Gigago

Here are the steps and tips to buy an India BSNL eSIM:

  1. Visit BSNL website: Go to www.bsnl.co.in and click ‘eSIM’ on the homepage.
  2. Register for eSIM profile: Fill in personal details and provide valid ID proof.
  3. Make online payment: Choose a prepaid plan, pay online with debit/credit card or net banking. Plans from Rs. 98.
  4. Application processing: Allow processing time for BSNL to activate eSIM profile.
  5. Receive eSIM: Get SMS and email with link to download eSIM profile.
  6. Install eSIM: Download profile file, install on compatible eSIM device to start using BSNL number.

Tips:

  • Have a valid ID proof ready while registering.
  • Use registered email ID and mobile number only.
  • Compatible devices include recent iPhone and Google Pixel models.
  • Visit a BSNL center in case of application or installation issues.

VI. How to activate BSNL India SIM/eSIM?

Read this instruction below carefully to get more insights!

1. How to use a BSNL India SIM card?

Just follow these steps to complete the setup:

  1. Insert the SIM card: Locate the slot on your device
  2. Power on your device: Allow it to recognize the SIM card
  3. Initiate the SIM: Typically, the BSNL India SIM comes pre-activated
  4. Adjust APN settings if eSIM is not an option
  5. Confirm your services.

2. How to activate BSNL India eSIM?

Getting started with a BSNL  eSIM for India  is quite easy as follows:

  1. Get an eSIM profile (QR code or download link) from your mobile carrier.
  2. Open eSIM settings on your phone (usually in Cellular or Mobile Data).
  3. Scan the QR code or download the profile.
  4. Install the profile and follow the on-screen instructions.
  5. Activate the profile in eSIM settings (if needed).

VII. FAQs about BSNL SIM Card/eSIM in India

How long does BSNL SIM card activation typically take?

Tele-verification usually takes around 2 hours, while online activation might be quicker, depending on the network traffic. In-store activation is typically the fastest option.

Can I activate a BSNL SIM card in another phone and then transfer it to my main phone?

Yes, you can! This can be helpful if your main phone doesn’t support a new SIM card format like micro-SIM or nano-SIM. Just make sure to power down the phone before inserting or removing the SIM card.

How can I know my BSNL SIM is active?

To check if your BSNL SIM is active, simply dial *124# on your BSNL line. Afterward, the service provider will promptly send you an SMS detailing your BSNL subscription’s balance and validity.

How much does it cost to activate the BSNL SIM?

Activating a BSNL SIM incurs a small fee of Rs. 20, allowing Prepaid Mobile connections to be reactivated within 15 days from the deactivation date.

VIII. Conclusion

To sum it up, getting and setting up a BSNL SIM card & eSIM in India is a breeze and can step up your connectivity game. With user-friendly steps, you can tap into BSNL’s wide network effortlessly. 

Whether you go for the traditional SIM card or the tech-savvy eSIM, BSNL makes sure the switch is smooth, keeping you connected hassle-free.