iPhone 4 with iOS 4.3 working with Airtel 3G in India


As soon as Airtel launched their 3G services in Delhi/NCR, I got my number ported from MTNL to Airtel and got the 3G services activated. Since the iPhone 4 is not officially launched in India, it is still not in Airtel’s supported handset list for 3G in India. So, when I tried to activate 3G by sending 3G as sms to 121, I got a reply that my handset is not supported (duh).

I then called up 198 (Airtel’s complaint hotline) and went into the 3G technical help section. I spoke to an executive and told him that I have an iPhone 3GS (which is in their supported handset list). He then activated the 3G services on my number after a few verification questions. After a few minutes, I received the confirmation SMS saying that the services have been activated on my number. After this, I restarted my iPhone 4 and could connect to the Airtel’s 3G network. No APN settings were needed, however, you do need to enable cellular data, 3G and data roaming under Settings -> General -> Network.

Here are my first impressions of Airtel’s 3G network.

Browsing speed is very good. Its significantly faster than EDGE and loads most websites in under 10 seconds. Loading an article from woikr took about 8.5 seconds:


What really impressed me was the 3G speed test results. I navigated iPhone 4’s Safari to my3gspeed.com to test out the download speed and I got around 0.83 Mbps which is 104 KBPS and is very good compared to MTNL’s 3G network. However, the latency with Airtel’s 3G network is too high. Its almost as high as on the EDGE (2G) network. This results in wastage of 2 – 3 seconds when you open any website:


I do understand that 0.83 Mbps is not impressive when we look at the claims made by Airtel in the advertisements. Also, iPhone 4 being HSDPA compatible, should theoretically get 21 Mbps. Yes, theoretically. You usually never get such high speeds even in developed nations (unless you are in Japan where you can probably get even more than that). Also, 104 KBPS (Yes, thats Kilo Bytes per second NOT Kilo Bits per second) is pretty good speed on a mobile device for browsing, youtube etc.

I had updated my iPhone 4 to iOS 4.3 yesterday which added the feature of Personal HotSpot allowing me to share my iPhone’s 3G connection over WiFi (in addition to BlueTooth and USB). I enabled it, connected my Macbook Air to the iPhone’s WiFi HotSpot and ran a few speed tests. The new feature is pretty cool and is a total hassle free setup. It also shows the number of devices connected to the HotSpot. As you can see, its showing 2 connections – my Macbook Air and iPad in my case.


Here is the result from speedtest.net:


Yes, I know, not very impressive. They are a little lower than what I got from my3gspeed.com. What was extremely disappointing was the meagre upload speed of 0.06 Mbps. I expect Airtel to do much better than that. Not 21 Mbps better, but at least constant 3.6 Mbps download.

I then went to Airtel broadband’s speed test page. Here is what I got there:


The upload speed was much better during this test. However, this is Airtel’s speed test site, so I will not count on it. I then tried to download the linux kernel from kernel.org using chrome browser. This is what I got initially:


Yes, download speed upwards of 200 KBPS is not bad at all. What I got is close to 2 Mbps. However, after a few moments, it got dropped down to 167 KBPS and remained around that figure for the remaining time juggling upwards a few times :


This means that the average download speed over Airtel 3G in Delhi/NCR is >=1 Mbps and the best you can probably get is close to 2 Mbps. I would say that its significantly better than MTNL’s 3G considering that you also get Airtel’s awesome coverage indoors and even basement car parks.

So all of you who are planning to use iPhone 4 over Airtel’s 3G network in India can confidently do so. You can be assured of decent speed wherever 3G coverage is available.

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17 Responses to this post

  1. Setu – great to know that personal hotspot is working on 3GS / Airtel combo.

    I have a similar combo, but can’t seem to get the wifi broadcast to happen from my iPhone. Tethering over USB / Bluetooth is working, but I don’t get the option of creating the network over wifi.

    Can you pls walk through the details steps again.

    • woikr says:

      The personal hotspot option is only available in iPhone 4. If you have an iPhone 3GS, you will only have the option of Bluetooth or USB tethering.

    • Setu Garg says:

      What I mean to say is that Personal Hotspot over WiFi is a feature available only in iPhone 4. All previous models have Bluetooth and USB tethering only.

  2. Som says:

    How did you unlock the phone? UltraSn0W? Or was this factory unlocked?

  3. Rahul says:

    Im still not able to connect to airtel 3g even though 3g appears on the status bar of my iphone4 and i followed all ur steps. Please help me

  4. Rusty says:

    another great post for Indian iPhone users.
    Any idea, if Verizon iPhones can be jailbroken and mapped to Indian CDMA providers ? Any successes yet ??

  5. Ponni says:

    I bought a Iphone 4 in USA (Later Unlocked it). I am currently in chennai. Currently using Vodfone service. I am able to make call but I am unable to enable 3G/ GPRS can any one help me

  6. Anonymous says:

    So, you’re saying that the 3G services is working on the iPhone 4? I just bought a new iPhone 4 and when i inserted my Airtel simcard, the 3G sign besides the Airtel is there! How is that possible? I haven’t subscribe to the 3G services yet….


    • Setu says:

      Airtel might have migrated you to 3G. Most likely you won’t be charged for 3G unless you subscribe to it. But you can call their customer service to check if you are actually subscribed to a 3G data plan or not.

      For now, you can disable 3G under Settings -> General -> Network .

  7. Sanjeev says:

    To all folks out there, who are unable to connect to Airtel 3G network after activating 3G, u need to make the following settings change in Iphone-4..
    Airtel Customer care has no clue how to get the 3G settings corrected on Iphone-4

    Enable 3G and celluar data
    Settings -> General -> Network
    Enable 3G – On
    Cellular Data – On
    Data Roaming – On (Optional)

    Reset Network Settings
    Settings -> General -> Reset
    Reset Network Settings

    The Iphone will restart and u r ready to browse wit Airtel 3G 🙂

  8. Sudeep says:

    Hey Guys,

    27th May 2011, every apple fan must have woken up in anticipation to grab the much awaited iphone4 and so did I.

    Little did I realize that AIRTEL was not at all geared up to provide
    its heavily advertised 3g services to its valued customers.

    I have been an Airtel user for more than 5 years, never did I think of switching over to a better service provider. Not even when number portability came into existance but now I guess its time to rethink over my decision to hold on to Airtel because Airterl today has least interest in extending basic services to its old loyalists.

    My plight started on 27th when I purchased the iphone4 and the moment I switched from an unlimited blackberry plan (Rs899/month) to 1000 3g plan on airtel. The internet connectivity (both on 2g and 3g) has been intermittent ever since the change of plan.

    I had been repeatedly chasing their support team members who blatantly told me that they were not completely hands on with the new device… Then why the hell did they lauch the iphone in the first place without any preparedness… They seemed to be least bothered with their own image but at least AIRTEL has no right to marginalize the reputation of APPLE and its premium product iphone4.

    I had a pathetic experience with the phone because of the service provider. The customer support at Airtel are bunch of buffons who have no business to be sitting there because they do not realize the importance of time. In spite of my repeated complaints, they have been unable to commit a resolution within 24hrs. Look at the audacity, they claim to resolve the net connetivity issue in 3-4 days… I am sure no one who uses the phone for business mails can afford to wait that long. Especially a subscriber who was on blackberry earlier. Do they have an iota of empathy? NO NOT AT ALL

    The biggest joke of all, they initially suggested that I should get in touch with APPLE for help on lack on INTERNET CONNECTIVITY….

    APPLE if you are listening, you should reconsider your decision to partner with such a company who has very little sense of customer responsiveness.

    Guys out there, wanting to buy and use APPLE iPhone4 …. watch out. Do not use AIRTEL 3g services on your phone because they are smply not geared up yet…Wait for some time till they grow up or use any other service provider.

    AIRTEL, my recent complaint nos are – 37681285 & 37683637. I urge you guys to resolve the issue by 1:00 PM tomorrow else I have to move to consumer court before i switch to another service provider.

    Believe me guys, AIRTEL and its support team SUCKS BIG TIME.

    • Setu says:

      We have notified Airtel’s official twitter account about your grievance and they ay that they will help you. Hopefully your issue should be resolved.

      Otherwise, I will also recommend switching to another operator which provides consistent service.

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