Addressing what has been a long standing demand of content owners for control over their short code brand (for example Indiatimes 58888 and STAR 57827), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has suggested that the National Numbering Plan Administrator in India make provisions for allocation of common short codes (CSCs) for value added services.

The Issues

At present, telecom operators (UASL and CMTS license holders) have been individually allocating short codes to content owners. Content owners have found themselves in a situation at times where some telecom operators have licensed the short codes, while others have held back, as a form of negotiation. Services get delayed, some don’t even get launched, or services are available at short codes different operators. This means that content owners cannot have uniformity in their marketing communications – for example: offering services on one short code for MTNL and BSNL, and another for Airtel. The pricing has also been arbitrary.

The Solution

The TRAI has suggested that the Department of Telecommunications authorize a nodal agency, and create a directory of all the short codes allotted till date. (Note: we’ve got our own directory here)

Allocation of Short Codes To Other Service Providers (OSPs)

The TRAI recommends that the DoT may allocate common short codes (CSCs) to OSPs. They may consider a web based application form for common short codes (CSCs) allotment and also maintain on the website the directory of short codes booked and allocated. This will bring transparency to the system of short code allocation. 

Common Short Codes shall be given based on the specific programme presented to the DoT. If the content provider wishes at a later date to run a new, modified or additional programmes on the same short code, he shall submit the additional programme for approval to the DoT. The information that they need to provide: Pricing, modification, opt-in/opt-out logic change, material change in content or change in the brand name etc

The TRAI recommends that DoT may identify six digits common short codes (CSCs) scheme for future use keeping in view the growth expected in value added services to be provided in 3G and next generation network (NGN) scenario.

Allocation of Short Codes To Other Service Providers (OSPs)

The DoT may reserve a series of short codes to be allocated as common short codes (CSCs) and a block of 500 numbers of short codes may be allocated to each telecom operator for allocation to content providers who are not registered as Value Added Service Provider under the OSP category with DoT. Telecom operators will need to maintain a directory of the short codes allocated by them, DoT and also the operational short codes in their website.

Telecom Operator Mandates

All the telecom operators have to integrate the common short codes with (Voice/SMS/ GPRS/WAP) to their network, and shall be mandated to open the common short codes allocated by DoT. The common short code allocated by DoT shall be opened and integrated with the IP address given by the Value Added Service Provider free of charge within 10 days of the receipt of written communication along with DoT allocation of common short code received from the Value Added Service Provider. The opening of common short codes shall be supported at different price points transparently including toll-free model (incoming calls/ messages to toll-free common short codes / short codes shall be charged to the subscriber of the short code).

Fees And Rollout Obligations

— The fee concept for common short codes allocation could be evolved by DoT so that administrative charges for administering the common short codes are recovered.
— The service through short code shall be made operational within one year of allocation and DoT shall be intimated about the date of operationalisation of the common short code by registered VAS provider.
— If no such information is received within one year by DoT it shall be presumed that the common short code has not been made operational and non-utilisation of short code for a period of more than one year will be subject to cancellation of short code and reallocation to other applicants.

Our Take
While the rationalization of allocation of short codes is welcome, who decides the allocation of short codes? For example, a short code like 54321 or 55555 (Nokia) may command a different price than  51892. Will we have an auction of short codes? The DoT will have to specify a pecking order…maybe on first-come-first-serve basis. We believe the DoT should start afresh, and perhaps adopt a different numbering scheme for OSPs, which will open up the opportunity for a fresh issue of Common Short Codes. Content owners may disagree, of course – they’ve spent money building recall for their short cordes.