11-digit plan put on Hold – As of now
The proposal to move to 11-digit mobile numbers has been shelved for good. The telecom department has accepted the short-term solution from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to create additional capacity in the ‘7’ and ‘8’ series and this will free up 650 million mobile numbers to cater to the industry’s demands for the next 30 months, officials aware of the development told ET.
As a long-term solution, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has also decided to open up levels ‘5’, ‘6’ and ‘3’ for mobile services . This implies mobile phone numbers of the future will begin with these digits. This will free up an additional 2,750.9 million (2.75 billion) mobile numbers, according to an internal DoT document reviewed by ET.
This is also expected to address the country’s mobile numbering plans for cellular services for about a decade. Currently, the new levels that are slated to be opened up for mobile telephony are used for landline services – ‘3’ is used by Reliance Communications, ‘5’ by Sistema Shyam and ‘6’ by Tata Teleservices.
These companies will have to move to move their fixed line customers to the ‘4’ series which has been allotted to Bharti Airtel for its landline customers. This implies that landlines of all private operators will soon begin with ‘4’. State-owned telcos, BSNL and MTNL will continue to use the ‘2’ series of their landline services.
According to an internal department note, opening up of level ‘5’ will free up 947.5 million mobile numbers, while levels ‘6’ and ‘3’ will generate 1004.5 million and 789.9 million respectively. In 2009, the telecom department had proposed that India move to 11-digit mobile numbers by prefixing ‘9’ to their existing cellphone numbers.
The department feared that the country would soon exhaust the ‘9’ series that were then used for mobile services. The ‘9’ series can accommodate about 900 million mobile numbers. While India has only 850 million mobile users at present, it had already exhausted the ‘9’ series nearly two-years ago due to churn where customers switch operators, and several other factors such a migration, where existing numbers cannot be used at new destinations due to technological constraints.
Unlike most Western nations, surrendered or unused mobile numbers are not recycled back into the system in India. But all mobile firms, with the exception of Reliance Communications and the Tata Teleservices, had opposed the 11-digit mobile number proposal and asked Trai to continue with the existing system.
They had also pointed out that levels – 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 – were reserved for fixed line services and these series are highly underutilised. On the other hand, Reliance Communications and Tatas were of the view that while the 10-digit numbers can be used for the short-term, but from April 1, 2013, the country must move “towards the implementation of 11-digit numbering scheme so as to address the exponential growth needs of the sector and the unforeseen requirement resulting out of future technologies and services”.
The existing numbering plan was fixed in 2003 and DoT had expected it to be in place till 2030. This is because, based on the 2003-projections , India was expected to have 500 million mobile customers only by 2030. But the country had reached that mark in 2009 itself. India has been the world’s fastest growing cellular market for the past four years, surpassing even China.