Mobile floor Crossing

It is official. About nine months from now, consumers will be able to switch between operators while keeping their telephone numbers.

This comes with the publication of regulations around number portability published in the government gazette.

Cell C, the smallest of the three mobile operators, and widely touted as possibly the biggest beneficiary of number portability, says it is “thrilled” with the regulations. Manager for regulatory support at Cell C, Mike Falconer, says it is very satisfied with the provisions contained in the regulations, as the process should be “simple, easy and cheap” for consumers to port.

“Portability removes a barrier to churn (of subscribers from one network to another),” says Falconer.

Mark Taylor, CEO of independent service provider in the Reunert stable Nashua Mobile, said although he hadn’t been able to review the regulations properly yet, in principle, it would be good for consumers: “we embrace full inter network portability that is governed by rules from Icasa.”

To facilitate porting, the network operators and possibly the service providers – although this has not yet been decided – will pay for a central database and clearing house where the operators can see what numbers need to be ported so they can rearrange their call routing.

The regulations say the operators must work together to offer number portability “as soon as reasonably possible and not later than nine months after promulgation of this regulation.”

Falconer says the network operators have already been co-operating for some time, probably at an “unprecedented” level, on how to put number portability into practice. He believes the operators will need at least nine months to implement this.

Consumers will also be able to switch between Telkom and the second network operator (SNO) once this is up and running.

In its report on how to bring down telecoms costs, released earlier this week after commissioning by the South Africa Foundation, Genesis Analytics said: “Healthy price competition therefore requires that customers are willing and able to switch between operators in response to price changes.” A key limiter to switching was the inability of consumers to keep their number, but number portability was a means to address this, it said.

Another limiter, which was the subject of recent Icasa hearings, is seen by some as consumers being locked in to long-term (two-year) contracts as a result of taking up a package with subsidized tariffs and / or handset. Cell C argued at the hearings for such contracts to be done away with eventually, while Vodacom was a strong supporter of retaining the current subsidies.

In terms of the number portability regulations, consumers can still port to another operator even if they are on a contract. They would still be obliged to honour their contractual obligations, but not before porting. In other words, a very unhappy customer could move networks and incur a financial penalty for the sake of getting better service with another operator.

A consumer can’t be prevented from porting even if they still owe money to the operator they want to leave. This is unless the customers’ outgoing or incoming calls have already been suspended for non-payment.

The operator getting the new customer, or the service provider, will have to pay any customer acquisition costs incurred to the operator losing the customer as a result of having ported between operators.

source: Posted: Wed, 05 Oct 2005 17:00 | © Moneyweb Holdings Limited, 1997-2005

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