We missed this earlier: Telecom operators wrote to the Telecom Secretary on April 2 asking the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to allow them to sign on new subscribers with an online KYC procedure. Amid the pandemic, telecom operators have practically stopped signing on new subscribers, as stores are all shut, and online KYC would allow them to resume sign-ons by delivering SIM cards to new users after the COVID-19 lockdown is loosened.

We reviewed the letter and the procedure laid out by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which wrote the letter.

Artificial Intelligence to verify users

The sign-on process works much the same way it does at a telecom operators’ store — customers’ personal details and proofs of identity and address are collected, and local references are taken if the user is outside their home state. But in addition to this, users would be needed to take a 10-second video reading out their name or date of birth, blinking, or other such activities. AI tools would be used to verify the authenticity of the video, telcos said, after which an inactive SIM card would be delivered, which the user would have to activate, but only if they have supplied an “alternate mobile number”.

Each user can apply for two SIM cards a day. “The proposed process will not only provide a reliable, speedier and hassle-free alternative but will also serve as a great convenience to the customers,” COAI director-general Rajan Mathews said in the letter.

Note that mobile wallet companies have been asking for this too, and the RBI suggested last June that Facetime and Google Duo be used to verify users. That process is nearly identical to that being suggested by telcos. In 2017, Skype rolled out a verification feature using Aadhaar along with its Skype Lite app.

COAI: Ask BSNL, MTNL to pay up

In a separate letter yesterday, COAI urged that telecom equipment vendors need to be paid immediately by BSNL and MTNL on outstanding dues. ” the situation has become highly critical now with total outstanding dues from these PSUs amounting to approx. INR 20,000 crore which is pending since long. This is adding to critical financial woes to our members companies who are facing serious constraints in terms of cash flows due to slowing economic activities in the current situation,” Mathews said in that letter.

“Also, this huge scale of delays and breach of contract commitments by Public Sector Units is highly detrimental to global business sentiment towards India,” he added.