Mobile Number Portability: Coming Soon?

According to Wikipedia, Mobile Number Portability (MNP) enables users to retain their mobile numbers when they wish to change from one mobile network to another. For instance, I can retain my Glo number when switching to the Etisalat network – this means I will make calls and send messages at Etisalat’s tariffs. When I call friends and family, my Glo number is displayed.

mnp
There are 2 ways in which MNP can be implemented – the more popular method is for the customer to contact the new operator (Recipient) who then makes the arrangements on behalf of the subscriber with the old operator (Donor). The other, only practised in the UK for now, only allows the subscriber to contact his old network (the Donor) to obtain a code which he then gives to the Recipient.There are several technical issues involved in MNP but the most significant is the routing of calls and messages to the mobile number once it has been ported. The widely accepted means is through the use of a Central Database (CDB) of ported numbers. Worldwide, porting times have varied from as fast as 3 minutes in Australia to 2 hours in the US and currently 2 working days in the UK. The service has been mostly free in most countries but has also attracted a minimal charge in some. MNP costs about 30 Euros in Germany.

The idea of MNP was first mooted in Nigeria by the NCC in 2007 but since then little has been heard of it. Some of the reasons given for its proposed introduction back then were to break operators’ monopoly of numbers, help reduce complaints of poor quality of service/improve quality of service and reduction of tariffs. As at 2007, Engr Ndukwe was credited with saying that it would only require a dial to migrate from one mobile network to another. Other technical officials were quoted to have said that the service might attract a “little” cost to subscribers.

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Recently, in a March 31, 2009 article on NEXT, Engr Ndukwe has set May 2009 as the date for the announcement of a timetable for MNP takeoff. On the mode of implementation, he said that the NCC will be working with an independent company which would be responsible for subscribers wishing to retain their mobile numbers while switching networks. He also revealed that the operators were on board and ready.

However, no mention has been made of the cost implications to the subscriber (if any). Aside this, how long will it take to carry out the change-over process (porting time)? Also, to prevent abuse of the system how often can one change operators over what time period? Is MNP going to be limited to GSM or are the CDMA networks involved too?

The benefits of MNP are immense for any telecoms market. It will truly create an atmosphere for competition. Operators can be free to roll out better packages for subscribers without restrictions (within limits, that is). New entrants are also better positioned to compete favourably as they can be judged by the quality of their service and products. In the long run, the customer, as king, benefits the most – increased choices, ability to retain your mobile number, improved service, lower tariffs. On the other hand, the system could be abused by subscribers who flit from operator to operator at the slightest whim. Also, there could be underhand practices from operators who want to hold on to their customers at all costs. This calls for proper regulation by NCC and the establishment of proper and adequate protocols for the process and regular reviews to ensure compliance.

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All in all, I am eagerly awaiting the advent of MNP here in Nigeria. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the harbinger of better things in the telecoms industry.

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