DoT wants full number portability by May

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on November 27, 2017 Published on November 07, 2014

A pedestrian holding her mobile phone walks past an electronic board showing the stock market indices of various countries outside a brokerage in Tokyo.   -  Reuters

Six months not enough to upgrade network, say mobile operators

Mobile users will be able to avail themselves of full mobile number portability by May if the Department of Telecom’s new order gets implemented.

Full MNP will allow users to retain their phone numbers even while relocating to, or changing operators in, any part of the country.

This facility was to be launched by April 2014 but the DoT got embroiled in technicalities related to implementation. Having sorted this out, the DoT has now asked mobile operators to implement full MNP by May 3.

At present, number portability allows users to retain phone numbers only within a circle. For example, if an Airtel user in Delhi relocates to Chennai, he cannot retain the phone number.

However, going by the mood in the mobile operators’ camp, users may have to wait longer. Most telecom companies BusinessLine spoke to said six months were not enough to upgrade their network for full MNP.

“The number of users who get a transfer or move to a new circle is not very large to justify the investments required to upgrade the network,” said a Mumbai-based operator who did not want to be identified.

The operators had given the same reason when the DoT had first asked them to implement partial MNP in 2009. It finally was launched only in 2011 and since then some 130 million subscribers have put in requests to retain their phone number while changing the service provider.

This time though, DoT officials said no extension will be given and operators who don’t abide will be penalised.

Expiry of licence

There is, however, a bigger hurdle which, if not resolved, could delay full MNP. A number of licences are set to expire over the next two-three years and the future is uncertain given that the DoT and TRAI, the sector’s regulator, cannot agree on when to conduct spectrum auction.

“No operator will make any investments in upgrading their network for full MNP at a time when there is uncertainty over their future.

“Full MNP can be done only when an operator is certain of business continuity,” said Rajan Mathews, Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India.

Interestingly, while the incumbent operators had blocked the introduction of MNP earlier fearing that they would lose out subscribers to newer players offering cheaper tariffs, it has turned out differently. Incumbents, including Idea Cellular and Bharti Airtel, gained more subscribers than they lost after MNP.

The DoT had then taken time to decide on who will manage the number portability system. Under the current system, two companies — Syniverse and Telcordia — have been given the licence to act as the MNP operators, and the entire country has been divided into two zones managed by each.

For full MNP, the DoT is unsure whether to continue with the same service providers or float a fresh tender.

Published on November 07, 2014
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