There is no consensus yet among the major service providers on the issue of an early migration to an 11-digit sequence
The unprecedented growth of cellular telephony in India has forced a rethink on the national mobile numbering plan much earlier than anticipated.
With a mobile user base of over 550 million connections — and with over 5 to 6 million net additions every month — the question looming before policy planners is whether to continue with the 10-digit mobile number for some more years or to ring in the 11-digit sequence (as some countries like China have already done) as a one-stop, long-term solution that would take care of future needs.
The National Numbering Plan (NNP) 2003 was formulated for a projected forecast of reaching the 50 per cent tele-density level by 2030.
While the fixed line connections showed a decline, the unprecedented growth of the mobile segment meant that the anticipated 450 million mobile connection milestone was achieved in 2009, and the figure is now poised to cross the 1 billion mark by the end of 2014.
Sensing the need to revisit the National Numbering Plan (NNP) 2003, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently issued a consultation paper seeking views from service providers on a better utilisation scheme of number resources.
The basic question raised by TRAI was whether the 10-digit mobile numbering scheme was sufficient for a few more years or whether the boom in the mobile user segment warranted an early migration to an 11-digit sequence.
However, there is no consensus yet among the major service providers on the issue.
The BSNL's argument is that the 10-digit scheme would hold fine for at least another 10 years. Migration to a 11-digit sequence would entail major changes, costs and inconvenience to users, it said.
Those in the industry supporting continuance of the scheme till 2014 or beyond, call for opening up more fixed line levels which remain grossly under-utilised.
Proponents of a migration to the 11-digit scheme say the transition can be easily implemented through pre-fixing an additional digit for all existing mobile numbers. According to TRAI, the level ‘9' for a 10-digit numbering system generates a maximum of 1,000 million numbers. Another 500 million are freed up against a few sub-levels of level 8.
However, while theoretically an estimated 1,500 million numbers should thus be available across mobile networks, in reality the number is much smaller due to various reasons.
Therefore, the practice is that the Department of Telecom allocates new blocks of numbers once a service provider demonstrates 60 per cent utilisation of the allotted numbers. Significantly, TRAI has observed that in many of the service areas, the utilisation of numbers by service providers is well below 60 per cent.
One of TRAI's suggestions is to introduce an integrated service-area based scheme where STD codes would be merged with the numbers to form a 10-digit number for fixed phones. The other alternative is to switch to 11 digits.
However, this would require modifying all fixed and mobile systems software, changing billing database, causing inconvenience to users in the form of dialling extra digits and updating of phone memory books, TRAI said.