New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) plans to auction two licences for rights to run all-India phone directory services that will include mobile phone numbers, two telecom officials said.
DoT will prepare guidelines for the exercise in two months, the executives said on condition of anonymity.
Currently, just two phone operators—state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL)—offer directory enquiry services, with a handful of firms such as Just Dial Pvt. Ltd or AskLaila, run by Four Interactive Pvt. Ltd, offering directory information of mostly commercial establishments on phone or the Internet.
India had some 453 million phone customers at the end of May. This is dominated by a fast growing mobile phone subscriber base that was 415 million in May, but is not covered by directory services of any kind.
More services: India’s dominating cellphone subscriber base (415 mn in May) is not covered by any directory service, nor are private landlines. Sanjit Das / Bloomberg
The directories of BSNL and MTNL, which together account for 86.35% of India’s about 38 million fixed line phone users, cover only their landline customers. Such information, available in print until recently, is increasingly getting moved to electronic forms stored on compact discs and available on online databases.
There are no directory services available for fixed line telephones offered by private operators or for mobile phones.
DoT officials said the department will follow what is called an opt-in model, where listing would be an option for mobile phone customers.
For fixed line subscribers, the option will be to opt out of the directory, much on the lines of the do-not-call registry.
The licences for directory enquiry service operators will be auctioned and the winners will have to pay 1% of their licence fees as revenue share to the government.
The minimum bid price in the auctions has been set at Rs1 crore, recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
“There are only two licences available for auction with a validity of ten years,” a DoT official said. “This was recommended by Trai last year.”
As a first step, a National Integrated Directory Enquiry Service (NIDQS) would be set up, a second department official said. Phone firms “will be obliged to give their database of numbers to NIDQS directory to which the licensed directory enquiry operators will have access”, he added. “This service can be accessed through SMS, email, Internet and IVRS (integrated voice response system).”
SMS, or short message service, is used by mobile phone customers to communicate through text messages.
“The revenue for the operator will come from the calls made to them,” the second official said. “They will pay 1% of the revenue as part of the revenue share agreement with the government.”
Details of whether the calls to directory enquiry would be charged in excess of call tariffs or whether the directory enquiry providers will gain through sharing revenues with phone service firms have not been finalized.
Directory operators such as JustDial are unlicensed. The service, which has both sponsored and non-sponsored listings, made revenues of Rs85 crore last fiscal year from some 250,000 calls it handles on an average from 240 cities and towns, according to a spokesman of the company.
A telecom expert described the move good from the subscriber’s point of view.
Said Rajat Kathuria, a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, a New Delhi-based think tank: “There may be problems due to the fact that there is a lot of churn in the Indian market and maintaining accuracy will be difficult. (But) as a subscriber, I would feel comfortable that as a last resort I will have access to the information.”