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DoT puts on hold 11-digit plan
The department of telecom (DoT) has put on hold its plan to get all the 500 million-plus mobile users in the country to adopt a 11-digit cellular number from 2010.

The DoT had recently prepared a draft notification in which it sought all mobile users to adopt a 11-digit numbering plan by prefixing ‘9’ to their existing cellphone numbers.

But, the department has been confronted with stiff opposition from all leading operators who said that it would be “next to impossible” for India to move to 11-digit mobile numbers in 2010 as this would involve making massive technical changes to both softwares and mobile network configurations. They also argued that the process could take up well over a year to implement.

The DoT, in an internal note, has now pointed out that moving to 11-digit mobile numbers has serious security concerns and, therefore, the move should be put on hold.

The government is now examining an alternate proposal from the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the body representing GSM operators, which had suggested that levels ‘7’ and ‘8’ should be vacated and allocated to cellular services. If this proposal is accepted, then mobile numbers will continue to have 10-digits, but will begin with ‘7’ and ‘8’ too.

COAI has pointed out that opening up of these levels “will give 2,000 million more numbering resources” while adding that “even with 60% efficiency, this would cater to 1,200 million more subscribers which is sufficient to meet the requirement of the next seven to 10 years”.

Also, on the cards is a move to examine if more levels such as ‘5’ & ‘6’ can also be opened up for mobile telephony.

The ‘95’ sub-level of telephone numbers, earlier reserved for trunk calls or STD dialling within a telecom circle, is now being allotted to cellular operators. The DoT also plans to ask telecom companies to vacate the STD code of ‘89’ so that this also can be used for cellular services.

The existing numbering plan was fixed in 2003 and the DoT had expected it to be in place till 2030. This is because, based on the 2003-projections, India was expected to have 500 million mobile customers only by 2030. But the country has reached that mark in 2009 itself. India has been the world’s fastest growing cellular market for the past three years, surpassing even China.

Thirteen mobile phone firms are jostling for space in the Indian market, which most analysts say can support only four to five operators. India is adding an average of 15 million new cellular customers every month. Four more companies are due to launch services by next year.

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