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Soon, your cell phone number may have eleven digits
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All 500 million mobile users in the country may have to change their phone numbers from January 1, 2010, and adopt a 11-digit cellular number if a DoT proposal is accepted by the industry. But, all leading operators said that it would be ‘next to impossible’ for the country to move to a 11-digit mobile number by January 2010 as this would involve making massive technical changes to both softwares and mobile network configurations, while adding that this process could take up to 12 months.

The DoT has prepared a draft notification in which it wants all mobile users to adopt a 11-digit numbering plan by pre-fixing ‘9’ to their existing cellphone numbers. A DoT official said that the country will eventually have to move to a 11-digit cellular numbers system.

The logic: Under the current 10-digit numbering scheme, only a maximum of one billion mobile numbers can be issued and the mobile connections in the country will cross this mark in the next couple of years. Pre-fixing an additional digit will allow the Indian telecom operators to issue up to 10-billion individual mobile numbers.

The existing numbering plan that was fixed in 2003 was expected to be in place till 2030. This is because, based on 2003-projections, India was expected to touch 500 million mobile customers only by 2030, but the country has reached this mark 21 years ahead of the projected date. India has been the world’s fastest growing cellular market for the last three years. Thirteen mobile phone firms are jostling for space in the Indian market that most analysts feel can support only 4-5 operators. India is adding an average of 15 million new cellular customers every month.

When contacted, all service providers denied having received any ‘formal’ notification to move to 11-digit mobile numbers from January 2010. “The proposal to migrate to 11-digit numbers from next year has been under discussion for a long time, but the government and telecom companies have not reached any consensus,” a top executive with one of the country’s largest operators said.

“It is impossible to migrate before January 2010 because all telecom networks have to be reconfigured. We also have to change all roaming agreements, both within India as well as with other telcos globally. Termination and interconnection agreements with global operators must also be changed so that incoming calls from abroad are directed to the new numbers and therefore the entire process will take about 10-18 months,” added the chief technological officer of a pan-India operator.

While the country has only about 500 million cellular customers, an industry analyst said that operators have already exhausted about 800 million cellular numbers. “A significant bulk of mobile phone users have changed their mobile operators over the last couple of years and some customers have done multiple changes — this has rendered these mobile numbers useless as most telcos discontinue a number that has been allotted once,” explained an industry executive.

The regulatory head with a telco pointed out that a lot of numbers were wasted in India because it was very cheap to get a new connection here. “There is no reward for refund. Numbers are not treated as a scarce resource. In most countries, governments are a little bit cautious before doling out huge numbers. If we had deposits on numbers, then people would cancel non-used numbers to get that deposit back. About 20% of numbers that have been allotted have not been used,” this executive added.

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