Thursday, 2 June 2011

Mobile Number Portability: A Hit or A Miss?

Kenya recently introduced number portability service but the demand has been much lower than anticipated. So was it a success or failure?
Kenya’s telecommunications market has four mobile operators namely: Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and Econet’s YU. Some argue that this number is way above the market. At one point Rene Meza, the Managing Director of Airtel Kenya said that the Kenyan market can accommodate a maximum of three mobile operators beyond that, it is saturated. I don’t know how true that is but what I know there is a vigorous battle among the mobile operators ranging from price wars to alleged sabotage. Mobile phone users have been the greatest beneficiaries of the mighty battles. The rates of calling and sending SMS have drastically reduced.
The market is largely dominated by Safaricom which boasts of approximately 17 million subscribers but of late they have been given a run for their money by the new operators who have joined the market.Most people are hesitant to change their mobile network operator for fear of losing their established contacts and also to avoid the inconvenience of broadcasting the new number to friends& relatives. Some of the operators launched complaints to the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) alleging over dominance of other companies. It is against this background that the government through Communication Commission Kenya (CCK) which is mandated to oversee smooth operations in the communication sector decided to award tender to a company to work on the modalities of number portability. Mobile number portability (MNP) is a technology that enables mobile phone users to retain their mobile telephone numbers when changing from one mobile network operator to another.
The tender was awarded to Porting Access Kenya and after so much wait, the service was rolled out in 1st April 2011.The service attracted mixed reactions from mobile phone users. Some welcomed it and have seen it as a move to reduce dominance of some mobile operators and prevent one from being “a slave” to a specific operator. However, others viewed the service as being much expensive than acquiring a new number altogether. For one to port to another network he/she has to part with Ksh.200 while when acquiring new number it costs Ksh.20.It is 10 times more expensive than acquiring a new number of the network one wishes to transfer to.
Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) had anticipated that the service will have a high demand but to their surprise the reception has been rather low such that after a week of the service being rolled out only 300 people had ported to different networks. The reception has not increased any further since the service was introduced. This is low considering that there are over 20 million mobile subscribers. It may be considered to be a success from the perspective of technological advancement. Otherwise, it is considered to be a failure on the basis of the number of people who have ported since its introduction. There may be other factors that could have contributed to the low pick-up of the number portability but what I think for sure is that the cost of the service is the foundation of the low reception.