In 1997, Singapore took a small step for mobile users and a giant leap for the global telecom industry when the country became the first to implement mobile number portability (MNP), which allows mobile phone customers to maintain the same phone number even if they switch service providers.
More than a decade later, from December 31, 2009, India will join some 50-odd countries that have already established an MNP framework. Industry experts, however, aren’t expecting a major shift in customers after MNP implementation. A Nielsen Mobile Consumer Insights study found that higher income, post-paid mobile subscribers are more likely to switch operators, but more than half the 12,500 respondents said they were happy with their mobile service. Only 18 per cent said they would change operators if MNP is implemented. BT’s Online poll shows a different result.
Problems, too, have already cropped up. Established telecoms like BSNL want customers to pay a “porting charge” to recover MNP-related costs. BSNL feels that TRAI’s framework only acknowledges the service providers’ expenditure, and not the money that other operators will have to pay. The company calculated that it will spend approximately Rs 1,065 crore to meet the MNP requirement, in addition to operational costs of about Rs 185 crore every year. But for smaller emerging companies like Unitech Wireless, set to launch by the end of the year, MNP could pose a golden opportunity for competition with the larger companies.
In the US, the road to MNP—called wireless local number portability, or WLNP— was rocky in its own right. A few months before the first wave of implementation in 2003, Verizon Wireless sued the Federal Communications Commission to block the portability requirement, but a US Court of Appeals denied its request. By May 2004, though, everyone in the US had access to the service.
So far, there’s no mention of landline number portability in India. But with a rapidly growing mobile customer base—nearly 30 million new subscribers joined the network in July and August 2009—MNP will definitely affect how intra-industry competition shapes up in the coming years.