Ushering in a new and consumer friendly regime in the sector, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday flagged off nation-wide Mobile Number Portability, a service that allows subscribers to change service provider while retaining the number.
This would benefit over 700 million subscribers, both in GSM and CDMA categories in the country.
The new policy would force the operators to shift focus from acquiring new subscribers to retaining the existing ones.
All that a customer needs to do for changing his telecom operator is pay a maximum of Rs 19. He/she will get a new service provider within seven working days as per the guidelines of regulator TRAI.
"Till now, operators were competing to acquire new subscribers. But launch of MNP will force them to offer innovative and quality services to retain their subscribers," Singh said.
The Prime Minister marked the launch of the service by making a call to Telecom minister Kapil Sibal who was seated next to him.
MNP services were first launched in Haryana in November 2010 and according to industry estimates, less than 1% subscribers opted for changing their operators.
The Prime Minister said that the telecom sector acts as a catalyst for growth of other sectors of the economy.
"Today's development - launch of MNP - will go a long way in enhancing customer's satisfaction," he added.
With monthly addition of 15 million subscribers, India has achieved a teledensity of 65%.
The Indian telecom sector, which is the fastest growing in the world with the lowest tariffs, has grown from 33 million in March 2004 to about 750 million now.
Telecom operators have welcomed the launch of MNP services, stating that the move will "liberate" subscribers from non-performing service providers.
Describing subscriber as a king, Sibal said the service would offer wide choice to customers.
"MNP will compel service providers to offer innovative, affordable and competitive tariff plans for the benefit of the masses," he said.
The minister said that the operators will have to make substantial investments in network, technology and processes to ensure continuous improvement of their "Quality of Service."
Though India has introduced MNP relatively late vis-a-vis other developed countries but at the same time it has been done by adopting the latest technology and methodology.
As of now the MNP services would be available within a circle, Sibal said. MNP, the consumer-friendly service, was mooted over two years ago and was supposed to be implemented by the end of 2009.
However, the schedule for implementation had to be deferred several times, owing to reasons ranging from the lack of preparedness of operators to delays in the appointment of an agency to oversee execution of the MNP project.
Customers will have to pay a maximum of Rs 19 to an operator to change their network and the new operator has the option to either waive the fee or reduce it.
However, a consumer will have to remain with one operator for a minimum period of three months in order to avail the MNP service.
Both pre-paid and post-paid consumers can use MNP.
The new option will bring about a much required change in the quality of services, as well as attitude of operators towards redressal of grievances in order to retain subscribers.
As per the eligibility criteria for MNP, customers must have cleared all their outstanding bills before making an application, as per the Department of Telecom (DoT).
It has also said the mobile number sought to be ported should not be sub judice and there should not be any pending request for change of ownership of the mobile number.
The DoT has claimed that the entire process of switching operators will take a maximum of seven days and subscribers may face disruption of services for about two hours during that period.
The one-time charge that needs to be paid by subscribers would differ from operator-to-operator, but the charge cannot exceed Rs 19.