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Mobile operators in India have been ordered by the Supreme Court to re-verify the IDs of the country’s 1.1 billion mobile subscribers. The court order is an exercise which has been projected to cost telcos in the region around $153m. Legal authorities have given the telecommunication companies in India a deadline of February 2018 - in order to complete the request.

Last month, the Supreme Court requested that all operators re-verify customers identities within a year using their national Aadhaar IDs – which is a 12 digit number issued to all residents in India based on their demographic and biometric data. It’s part of India’s effort to tighten security by making it more difficult for criminals and terrorists to obtain SIM cards without holding containing valid identification.

Reports have alleged that telecommunication operators have already been through a process which was implemented by the government. The initiative was called ‘know-you-customer-‘ and the vetting process took place a number of years ago. However, the latest verification process proposed by the government is estimated to be a costly practice.

India’s telecommunications industry is one of the most competitive in the world, and that has been significantly increased since 4G upstart Reliance Jio entered the market in September 2016. Backed by India’s richest man it has drastically shook-up the industry, and subsequently forced Vodafone India and Idea Cellular to become partners in an effort to combat the prominence of Reliance Jio.

Ironically, the newcomer is the least likely to be affected because the vast majority of its customers were signed up after the Aadhaar identification process was installed ahead of their launch last year. Operators realize that the new system will be beneficial in the long-run to the industry and will be important for the government. But it’s the cost of the initiative which has operators concerned. Norway’s Telenor group was forced to exit the Indian market due to the impact of Reliance Jio, and was subsequently acquired by Bharti Airtel. However, many operators will now be put under further pressure financially following the decision taken by the Supreme Court.

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