KOLKATA: India’s biggest telecom companies have come up with a string of userfriendly innovations to help customers, especially those in the rural areas, link their mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar in an attempt to speed up the re-verification of subscribers mandated by the government. Market leader Bharti Airtel is conducting special camps for rural subscribers to complete their Aadhaar-based SIM re-verification. Vodafone India, the No. 2 carrier, has despatched special vans to Rajasthan’s rural hinterland to help customers link their SIM and Aadhaar numbers at their doorsteps. Idea Cellular, the third-largest telco, has set up temporary canopies in rural locations.

The efforts of the carriers to ring in simple, customer-friendly solutions come when the Centre wants telcos to ensure their customers across the country have linked their mobile numbers with the biometric-based identity number by February 6, 2018, a mammoth task. India had 1.18 billion mobile subscribers at the end of September, according to data on the website of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India posted on November 21.

“The company’s mobile vans-based initiative to link customer SIM numbers with their Aadhaar can be extended to other circles if the Rajasthan pilot works,” a top Vodafone India executive said. Vodafone’s mini vans are also helping rural customers in Rajasthan with 2G and 3G connections to upgrade to 4G as an add-on service.

The top three telcos also appear to be going out of their way to bond better with customers, especially after the Supreme Court hauled up them up for causing panic by sending messages that accounts would be deactivated if not linked to Aadhaar even as a Constitution bench is yet to decide on the validity of the 12-digit identity number. The government maintains that the Supreme Court has approved the mandatory Aadhaar-cellphone linkage.

The push to offer re-verification at the doorsteps of customers takes place amid growing subscriber reluctance to visit the retail outlets of telcos to complete this task as it was seen as inconvenient, especially for the elderly and the physically handicapped.

This led the Department of Tele- communications to allow re-validation through three systems to simplify the process – a one-time passcode or OTP sent as a text message, an interactive voice response system and through the mobile apps of the operators. However, mobile phone operators have sought more time from DoT and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues Aadhaar numbers, to implement OTP for re-verification, citing technical grounds. The UIDAI has set a November 30 deadline.
 The Cellular Operators Association of India, an industry grouping that represents Bharti Airtel, VodafoneIndia, Idea and Jio, among others, told UIDAI and DoT it would be impossible to implement an OTP-based re-verification process by November 30 because the customer acquisition form (CAF) needs to be modified and reissued by the government, which has not happened.“Telecom service providers would require at least 4-6 weeks to make the necessary technical changes once DoT issues the modified CAF for implementing an OTP-based reverification of mobile subscribers,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of COAI.

Mathews said COAI is hopeful that “DoT will issue the modified CAF by the month-end” to enable telcos to make the necessary technical changes and “incorporate their apps pan-India” for early implementation.

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