Using Airtel International calling card

I have been using Airtel International calling cards for a while.  Rate to US is relatively cheaper compared to the full international calling rates.  Only problem I had was the long dialing procedure which used to take almost a minute to get into a conference call.  I worked around the manual dialing process by storing frequently used numbers in the phone along with the calling card number.  For eg. one of my contact entries look like this. 1802202pppp123456789012#ppppp0015172345678#pppp123456#
1802202                      is the Airtel access number
123456789012           is how my card account number looks like (12 digit)
001 517 234 5678     is the US number I need to dial
123456                        is the passcode for the above conference number
‘p’ adds one second delay in the dialing sequence.  ‘p’ and ‘w’  (explained below) can be added to the dialing sequence by pressing ‘*’ key repeatedly on your Nokia phone.  On Blackberry, use keypad ‘b’ for wait and ‘n’ for pause or use the options menu (options menu can be invoked while entering a number by pressing the Menu key) and choose "Add Pause" or "Add Wait".

RFC 3601 (Text String Notation for Dial Sequences and  Global Switched Telephone Network (GSTN) / E.164 Addresses) defines the implementation of pause and tonewait as follows:

Implementation of  ‘pause’  and ‘tonewait’: 

  • one instance of a ‘pause’ SHOULD be interpreted as a pause of one second between the preceding and succeeding dial string elements;
  • a ‘tonewait’ SHOULD be interpreted as a pause that will last until the calling party hears a dial tone or another indication  that more dial string characters may be processed. An off-hook  indication MAY also be interpreted as this kind of indication      (meaning that the audio channel has been opened to the  receiving party)

As you notice, the above number sequence is very long. Sometimes, Airtel doesn’t connect you correctly within the 4-8 seconds delay you introduced between the numbers.  You can add a ‘tonewait (w)’ instead of pause.  So, if you modify the above number like this:

Note that, ‘p’ has been replaced with ‘w’.  In this case, phone waits for the next set of sequences at every ‘w’.  You can listen to the prompt and ask phone to send next sequences.  On nokia, you will see the prompt “Send” against one of the option keys.  Blackberry shows the next sequence of numbers  and wait for you to press the trackball to send those numbers.  I noticed that Blackberry ignores the ‘w’ if you have a ‘p’ and ‘w’ together.

However, storing the numbers like this become annoying soon because:

  • Airtel doesn’t have the notion of recharging.  (This service is outsourced to another company).  You get a new account number when you ‘recharge’ and you have to edit your phonebook and update all numbers that you stored this way.
  • You may want to dial different numbers. Dialing this entire sequence (if not stored in the phone book) is time consuming considering that quality of service is not great from Airtel and there is no guarantee that you will get connected at the first attempt.   More over, your line will get disconnected multiple times and you will have to redial if you are taking the call while traveling in Bangalore.
  • You will take more time to get into a conference number because you have to dial a large sequence of numbers.

This is where I started exploring the way of registering your phone for the account number that you receive so that if I use my phone to dial out, I don’t need to enter the account number.  This FAQ from Airtel was the starting point.  This didn’t work as expected and the customer care was clueless as usual.  Here are the steps to register your phone.

  • Dial 1802202
  • Enter your 12 digit account number
  • You may be asked to choose the language if this is the first time you are using the number after a recharge
  • Dial 111# after the IVR announces your account balance
  • Follow the IVR.  Press 1 for registering the card.
  • You will be asked to enter the PIN.  The default PIN is 0000 (4 zeros).  You can’t change this.
  • You will be given another set of options related to phone registration.  Follow the IVR and register the phone.  You will have to enter 0091 before your 10digit phone number.

Henceforth, you will be presented with your card balance anytime you dial 1802202 using your registered phone.  Your dialing sequence becomes simple now. For eg.


(Use ‘w’ or ‘p’ as explained earlier).  Just register your phone after a recharge every time and then you don’t need to update your phone book entries.

One last line of caution for those who use your mobile phone for taking calls. I noticed that my line gets disconnected at every hour.  Airtel customer care tells me that there is a DoT regulation that the lines should not be active continuously for more than an hour.  I don’t know if this is true or this is a way of Airtel managing a large number of customer base with fewer lines.