Come September and mobile users would be able to change their service provi-ders without changing their numbers. This technology known as mobile number portability (MNP) - will have a major impact on the dynamics of Indian mobile industry, which is the fastest growing wireless market in the world. Number portability is expected to boost competition and improve quality of service but its success would depend on several factors.
“Pricing and quality of service along with the experience of going through the MNP process would make a difference,” said Sanjay Kasturia, head, India operations of US-based Syniverse Technologies.
Syniverse Technologies and MNP Interconnection Telecom Solutions, the latter a joint venture between US-based Telcor-dia Technologies and Gurgaon-based DTC, have been given licences by the department of telecom (DoT) to implement mobile number portability across India.
Richard Jacowleff, president, Interconnection Solutions at Telcordia said number portability would encourage operators to continuously optimise and improve their services in order to stay competitive.
Existing subscribers will have the option to choose the provider based on criteria such as price, coverage, quality and handset support. This is expected to increase competition, which in turn would increase the quality and availability of new content and value-added services. But how much would it cost fa subscriber to shift?
Jacowleff said the company has recommended a very low or a zero fee. “Our experience in other markets suggests that portability is most successful when end-subscriber fees are waived and covered by the operators,” he added. Echoing similar views, Kasturia said the porting fee should not be too high.
When contacted, an official from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) refused to comment on the porting fees and said the regulator would soon come out with a consultation paper on the issue. The government has fixed Septem-ber 20 as the deadline for implementing number portability in the metros and class A cities. The service would be extended to the rest of the country in a phased manner, with the entire country covered by the first half next year.
Asked if there could be delay in meeting the deadline, Jacowleff said, “We are, at present, planning to support MNP on schedule. There are always risks of slippage in schedule due to difficulty in finalising specifications and getting everyone in the industry prepared.”
But is portability a success in those markets where it’s already available? The global average for porting ratio stands at 4-5 per cent at present, said Kasturia. Initially, in the Indian market, a high ratio is expected. However, after six months, that would stabilise, he said.
Jacowleff said factors such as number of competitors, average call costs, quality of service and brand loyalty would heavily impact port rates. “On an average, such rates in most markets start off slowly-at around 1-2 per cent and level off at 3-5 per cent over time, though in some markets we have seen port rates of more than 15 per cent per year.” For India, his estimate is in the 3-4 per cent range over the next 10 years.
Trai is yet to finalise guidelines for number portability or the porting fee structure. On July 1, it had issued draft regulations, which stipulate that a subscriber would be able to port his or her number only after 90 days from the date of activation. To acquire a new user, the recipient operator has to carry out subscriber verification within five days, after which the request has to be forwarded to the donor operator (or existing subscription provider) to obtain clearance.
The donor operator has to verify and communicate the details to receipient operator within two working days. But many of these details are expected to be finalised after Trai comes out with its consultation paper.