In 1995, one year after India began to liberalise the telecom sector, the telephone was still a luxury for most Indians. A couple of years later, the mobile phone was still a status symbol that required payments for incoming calls. Today, your milkman, carpenter and the kabadiwala who collects your junk have one. Sometimes in the middle of next year, the number of mobile subscribers in India will cross one billion. That means that 74 % - or three out of four Indians - have a phone connection - though that is literally not true, as corporate subscriptions and second connections inflate the number. In the early days of the cellphone, a one-minute call from Delhi to Mumbai used to cost about Rs. 35 a minute. And a call from India to the US cost twice as much. When mobile phones were launched in India, in 1994, the charge for a one-minute call was Rs. 16. Now a one-minute call costs as little as 45 paise per minute - less than 3% of cost back then, despite intervening years of inflation and growth that make the rupee go less far. You can now call anywhere in India for less than a rupee a minute and the normal rate for a call to the US is only about R4 per minute.
At the upper end of society, the ubiquitous information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services industry is now worth $100 billion (Rs. 55,000 crore). Call centres and BPO industries now employ hundreds of thousands of workers who are aided by the connectivity spawned by telephony and data linkages. When the first mobile phone service was launched in India, the cost of a low-end mobile handset was around Rs. 25,000. You can now buy one for Rs. 1,000. Smartphones, which bring the browsing power of the internet to your palmtop, can be bought for as low as Rs. 5,000. This revolution has been aided by liberal policy measures, which have clearly benefited the consumer.
So, nation-wide mobile number portability (MNP), which will allow you to transfer your number with you anywhere in India for a small fee, adds to another set of good news for the 900-million-plus mobile telephone subscribers in India. Currently, MNP allows a subscriber to change his operator only within a circle and by the end of October 2012 about 75.14 million subscribers have submitted their requests to different service providers for porting their mobile number. The logical next step, of course, will be to enable a subscriber to talk on her mobile phone wherever she is in the country without worrying about roaming bills. Doing away with roaming bills, along with inter-state mobile number portability, would effectively mean India, like most mature economies, will be treated as one telecom zone, with no circles. Its time has come.