Number portability is a regulated facility which enables subscribers of publicly available telephone services (including mobile services) to change their service provider whilst keeping their existing telephone number. Its purpose is to foster consumer choice and effective competition by enabling subscribers to switch between providers without the costs and inconvenience of changing telephone number. – Ofcom UK.
Having used this feature in the past in another part of the world, I can testify to its benefits as a consumer. At the end of a very expensive contract with my old provider (Network 1), I found a plan I liked on a rival network (Network 2), and asked them what I needed to do to transfer my old number to this plan. I was asked to obtain a PAC code from my current service provider, which I did. I have to say, it was at this point that my old service provider tried to woo me back into another contract by offering a reduced tarriff rate, but it was too late. The smoke had cleared from my eyes. Within 24 hours, I was using my old number on Network 2. From experience as a consumer, I chave observed that the effects of having this facility are wide-reaching and deep-rooted for all stakeholders involved.
For us, this means that there is no requirement to remain with an underperforming phone network. According to a recent poll, most Nigerian consumers would definitely change their service providers provided they could keep their phone number.
Ultimately, customers are able to save money, and are released from the unspiritual bondage of continuing to “recharge” for sub-optimal services. To try and discourage customers from switching, mobile network operators might impose a “portability fee” on customers. In instances where this is contravened by law, they tend to woo customers with reduced rates. Whether or not mobile number portability will be a chargeable service is yet to be determined, even though The Vanguard Newspaper reported back in May that the NCC would not allow this. In countries where this facility exists, charges could be anything up to N5,900 equivalent (in Germany).
In addition to this, the threat of losing customers to rivals means that telecoms operators are forced to improve their service or lose out. For the customers, this means overall better services from phone networks.
Telecoms service providers
Increased competition across networks. If the competition between mobile networks hadn’t already peaked, then it is about to do so with mobile number portability. Nigerian telecoms operators now need to rely less on giveaways ludicrous prizes, and more on innovating new products which address customer needs, fuelled by the knowledge that customer loyalty to substandard services would be no longer guaranteed.
NCC/Other Regulatory bodies
In many countries where this facility exists, mobile telecoms operators are often regulated by laws which ensure that ensuring that service providers adhere to certain rules and regulations which protect the interests of the consumer. Examples of these laws include Article 30 of the European Union Universal Services Directive (2002/22/EU).
One would be forgiven for assuming that portability would be available by default upon the advent of mobile phone usage, but this isn’t the case. Countries have had to proactively opt-in to use the service, and different countries have their different “portability live dates”. Countries like the Netherlands introduced MNP as early as since 1997. According to TeleGeography, a telecomms market research company, Ghana, India, Kenya and Colombia all introduced number portability in the last year. Ghana, Nigeria’s unacclaimed political big brother saw over 370,000 successfully ported numbers with the biggest loser, MTN losing 125,000 subscribers to rival networks in the first year.
Time taken to port also depends on the country. MrPepe found that porting a number can take anywhere between 10 minutes (in Canada) and up to 12 days (in Mexico).
Even though there have been talks of introducing mobile portability to Nigeria since 2010, this hasn’t actually taken off for reasons best known to the NCC and operators. There are further talks being held on the 26th of September regarding this at the Golden Gate restaurant, Ikoyi. According to the NCC, the talks are intended to “review the development of the telecoms sector since liberation and the role number portability will play in fashioning the way forward for the sector”.
MrPepe, alongside thousands of Nigerian consumers, eagerly await an actual implementation date.