One number across India: Portability kicks in, free roaming next?

  • M Rajendran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 03, 2015 12:51 IST

Beginning Friday, you will be able to retain your mobile number even if you move “permanently” to another state, a move which experts and industry executives claim will eventually lead to a roaming-free India.

A consumer will just have to port the number from a service provider to a new operator or the existing one in the state he/she is moving to.

While Airtel has announced plans to offer the service, others are expected to make similar announcements on Friday.

“It is a precursor for one Indiaone rate system like in the US. Technically it is feasible with additional investments by operators. It will also end the hoarding of numbers, and reduce the pressure on the government to issue new ones,” said Sanjay Kapoor, former CEO of Bharti Airtel, and current chairman, Micromax.

Operators have traditionally resisted moves by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the government which could lead to a reduction in rates for users. “Operators have come to accept this trend now. If two big operators jump in, One India rate could happen sooner than latter,” said Romal Shetty national head, telecom, consulting firm KPMG.

This will also benefit consumers, and whatever higher cost operators have to pay can be supplemented by volume growth. The difference in data rates provided by operators on roaming, which has been a cause for concern, will also stabilise with the introduction of the One India tariff.

“Data usage has been a concern while roaming. A One India tariff will certainly boost data usage in the country,” Kapoor said.

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Telcos have long cited higher investments and operating expenditures as roadblocks for offering the service. “But technically it is possible. Most operators are already offering One India rate for calls made to subscribers on same networks anywhere in India,” said NK Goyal, telecom analyst and founder of CMAI.

One India could also remove the need for separate licences for 22 circles. “One India rate could usher in the beginning of the end of circle-based regime,” Kapoor said.

At present, a mobile consumer pays differential tariff based on plans they have chosen in their respective cities of residences. When consumers travel to other cities, they pay roaming charges plus local call rates according to their plans. STD or ISD charges get levied along with roaming rates, if subscribers make calls to other cities from the city they are visiting. In addition, they also pay a 14% services tax.

While Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Communications have already announced plans to offer the service, others, including MTS, Uninor, Idea Cellular and BSNL, are expected to make similar announcements on Friday.

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