Telecoms face SIM challenge as home ministry wants fingerprint verification

Indian telecom operators are facing SIM challenge as home ministry wants the mobile service providers to conduct fingerprint verification of new mobile subscribers.

The new initiative may be rejected by telecom operators such as Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications, etc. as it will be a lengthy and costly process.

A meeting is expected to discuss the matter with all stakeholders including telecom service providers for devising an alternative system.

The new initiative is to avoid misuse of SIM cards and reduce security issues.

Last year, the DoT had made it mandatory for a mobile service provider to physically verify an applicant before issuing a SIM card. In fact, this project resulted into lower addition of mobile users in 2012.

For instance, Vodafone lost 5,189,000 mobile users in Q3 of fiscal 2012-13 as during the third quarter subscriber verification regulations were changed, leading to a sharp fall in gross customer additions which resulted in net customer disconnections.

The impact of the earlier verification drive was wider than expected. India’s mobile subscriber base decreased to 864.72 million in December 2012 from 890.60 million in November 2012, down 2.91 percent. Verification and cleaning up of active users forced top Indian telecom operators to miss mobile customers in December 2012.

According to TRAI, Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Communications, Idea Cellular, Aircel, Loop Mobile, Videocon, MTS India, MTNL and Tata Teleservices have lost mobile subscribers in December 2012. Unitech, HFCL and BNSL added mobile customers in December 2012.

The home ministry — in a note to DoT — has recently asked the department of telecommunications (DoT) to explore an option of making it compulsory for telecom service providers to take fingerprints or any other biometric verification before activating the mobile numbers.

According to a report in Times of India, the ministry has suggested that the department may maintain a central database comprising biometric features of all subscribers and opt for linking it with the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) for keeping those data at one place.

At present, pre-activated SIM cards attract a penalty of Rs 50,000 each in addition to an immediate disconnection of the mobile service.


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