telecom news: Telcos plan contactless SIM sale to boost customer addition

KOLKATA: The country’s top three mobile operators are busy thrashing out a secure but totally contactless digital customer acquisition process to arrest a sharp fall in mobile connections sales amid the Covid-19-induced lockdown.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea (VIL) and Reliance Jio will shortly seek approvals from the telecom department (DoT) and the home ministry for implementing the process once there is consensus on the ways to ensure all e-KYC (electronic-know your customer) parameters can be securely met digitally, without any potential customer having to actually turn up at a mobile store to buy a connection, industry executives aware said.

“Operators are aware people need mobile connections but are facing hardship in getting them amid the nationwide lockdown, which is why, they are collectively working on a secure technology solution that can make SIMs available when people need it the most, and also boost customer adds,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that represents the three telcos.

Under the proposed exercise, the telcos are also likely to seek government approval to arrange secure and hygienic home delivery of SIM cards via couriers in the event of a prolonged lockdown.

The development comes at a time when the carriers are struggling to get new customers amid a countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to estimates, the three carriers have collectively added only 500,000 new customers in March against 2.5- 3 million monthly adds in normal times. Before the lockdown, digital recharges were around a third of overall recharges. But now, whatever little recharges are happening are all digital. There are no footfalls at mobile stores and not even much mobile number portability (MNP) is happening as most people are confined in their homes.

A Vodafone Idea spokesperson said the company is “developing a fully-automated, digital customer acquisition process, allowing customers to join its network from the comfort of their homes,” in line with its go-digital strategy. The service would be rolled out soon, the person said.

Airtel and Jio did not reply to ET’s queries as of press time Friday.

A top industry executive, who requested not to be named, said telcos would seek government nod once they are ready with a contactless, electronic solution that meets e-KYC parameters, as in securely authenticating a customer’s identity and address.

Efforts are on to check if a new customer can share his/her photo with a telco online without having to visit a store, but fully meeting the government’s security drill.

An immediate challenge for telcos once they get the clearance would be extending this online SIM sales mechanism to people who don’t have access to digital channels during a lockdown.

They may weigh the feasibility of empowering local pharmacies, grocery stores, ATMs, or banks to assist such customers in buying connections online if the security issues can be addressed, the executive cited above said.

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