TRAI proposes charges for Phone numbers amid Numbering Plan Revision

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is considering implementing charges on smartphone and landline numbers to better regulate numbering resources.

National Numbering Plan Revision

TRAI has issued a consultation paper to revise the National Numbering Plan, aiming to create a sustainable pool of phone numbers for India’s nearly 1.2 billion mobile connections.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) last revised the plan in 2003 to accommodate 750 million telephone connections.

TRAI highlighted that after 21 years, the availability of numbering resources is now at risk due to the expansion of services and the growth in connections.

As of March 31, 2024, India has a tele-density of 85.69% with 1,199.28 million telephone subscribers, and TRAI expects this number to continue rising.

The objectives of the new plan are:

  • Evaluate factors influencing the allocation and usage of Telecommunication Identifier (TI) resources.
  • Recommend changes to improve allocation policies and utilization procedures.
  • Establish a sustainable pool of TI resources to support the expanding telecommunications industry.

The DoT currently manages telecom identifiers for both fixed and mobile networks, following ITU-T’s E.164 recommendations.

Impact of 5G Networks

India’s telecom sector is transforming with the introduction of 5G networks, offering ultra-high-speed connectivity, minimal latency, and extensive device integration. TIs play a crucial role in efficient communication and network management in this evolving landscape.

Phone Numbers as a Valuable Public Resource

TRAI considers phone numbers a valuable public resource that is finite. The proposed charges might be imposed on mobile operators, who could pass these costs to users.

This move aims to increase the average revenue per user (ARPU) for telecom operators like Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea (Vi), who are promoting tier-based postpaid plans.

According to TRAI, the government owns the numbering space and grants usage rights to mobile operators during the tenure of their licenses. The new Telecom Law, passed in December last year, allows for charging for telecom identifiers.

Charging Methods Under Consideration

TRAI is considering several charging methods:

  • One-time charge per number
  • Annual recurring charge for each numbering resource allocated
  • Centralized auctions for vanity numbers
Efficient Utilization and Penalties

TRAI is also considering imposing penalties on operators holding unused number resources to ensure efficient utilization.

For instance, a subscriber with dual SIMs may not use one for an extended period, but the operator retains the number to maintain its user base.

The regulator believes imposing charges can ensure the judicious and efficient use of finite public resources. Penalties for low utilization of numbering resources are also being considered to further ensure efficiency.

International Comparisons

TRAI mentioned that various countries, such as Australia, Singapore, Belgium, Finland, the UK, Lithuania, Greece, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Kuwait, Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Nigeria, South Africa, and Denmark, impose charges for telephone numbers, either on mobile operators or subscribers.

Industry Opposition

Industry executives, as reported by the Economic Times, contend that imposing charges on telecom companies for numbering resources will not effectively address the issue of inefficient use.

They suggest a more effective solution would be to define ‘inactive connections’ and establish a cut-off period for reallocating these numbers.