India's claims of a sensational expansion of mobile phone use could take a knock as a reality check revealed that almost a third of the country's mobile phone numbers were inactive.
Officially, there are about 900 million mobile phone subscribers in a nation of 1.2 billion. But government data showed that about 300 million of these are not in use at all.
This means only one in every two persons in India has a mobile phone, compared to three in every four persons that the official figures show- or a sharp drop in teledensity from to 50% from 75%."There is a huge database of permanently inactive numbers with each service provider. The department of telecom (DoT) may refer to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to determine the criteria for deletion of such numbers and sparing them for fresh utilisation," said an internal DoT note seen by HT.
The surge was also aided by a skewed policy where telecom operators were encouraged to inflate subscriber numbers as higher consumer bases entitled them to greater spectrum.
Also, higher subscriber bases helped in driving valuations of companies that were listed on stock exchanges or were planning to infuse fresh investment.
Earlier, the operators were allotted spectrum on the basis of number of subscribers. That is why operators inflated their subscriber numbers. Another reason for inflating subscriber base is increasing valuation of the company," said a government official.
Telecom service providers have told the DoT that a large number of subscribers are under the so-called 'Lifetime Plan' that enables consumers to retain numbers indefinitely without actually using them.
They said it is difficult for the operators to delete these numbers and free them for new subscribers due to "contractual obligations".