Cellcos ordered to re-verify more than 1bn subscribers by Feb-18

27 Mar 2017

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a notice requiring all of the nation’s mobile providers to re-verify their subscribers via the government’s Aadhaar identification system, which incorporates a unique number for each individual as well as biometric data. The Economic Times writes that the notice follows a ruling by the Supreme Court last month which requires all mobile subscribers to be verified by 6 February 2018 to crack down on the use of wireless technology for illegal activities. In its notice, the DoT ordered licensees to inform their users of the situation through advertisements in print and electronic media as well as through SMS and on their websites. According to Rajan Matthews, DG of industry group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), executing the orders is expected to cost operators a total of around INR10 billion (USD152.80 million) in ‘training people, getting recognition devices and setting up processes.’ In addition to the financial outlay, the logistics of re-verifying each subscriber is likely to be complicated and time-consuming: as noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, India was home to 1.127 billion mobile subscribers at the end of December 2016.

Critics of the move have said that it will have a much greater effect on the incumbents, as the bulk of their subscriber bases signed up before the introduction of Aadhaar-linked electronic know-your-customer (eKYC) in August 2016. By contrast, the majority of newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm’s (Jio’s) user base were verified via Aadhaar eKYC.

Elsewhere, the move has been lambasted by privacy advocates who have highlighted the growing practice of Aadhaar verification becoming compulsory to access services and government entitlements.