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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mobile Number Portability

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By June 2009 your mobile number will become yours to keep, as long as you are paying your bills. You can change your operator, but your number will remain the same.

The Telecom Regul-atory Authority of India (TRAI) has suggested this deadline in a letter to department of telecommun-ications (DoT) secretary Siddhartha Behura. Last November, DoT had indi-cated that number porta-bility would be implemented by December 2008 in the metros. The new time-table covers the whole country. The deadline is more realistic since implementation of number portability needs additional investments and an enabling mechanism, including the creation of a Mobile Number Portability Clearing House Admini-strator. TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra said the government should come out with a road-map for implementing number por-tability. Covering the whole country could "facilitate planning at the telecom service providers' level," Misra has added.

The regulator, in a recommendation on Friday, has also requested DoT to grant a licence to neutral or third parties to set up a clearing house administrator through competitive bidding. This administrator would have to follow the norms applicable to any telecom service provider, including foreign investment limits. Elaborating on the norms for number portability, TRAI has said no credit transfer will be allowed to the new account, in case a pre-paid mobile user shifts over to a new service provider.

Also, there would be a 'break before make' arrange-ment for completion of the porting process. That is, the connection of the donor network has to be snapped before the recipient network is made. The regulator has stressed that the break period (disconnected period) should not be more than two hours, but initially the total time taken to port a number may be up to three days. The cost of setting up the clearing house will be borne by the entity which wins the bid for a mobile number portability (MNP) licence. But, it will recover the same in the form of porting transaction fees from service providers, according to TRAI.

Number portability is all about shifting to another service provider while retaining your phone number, within the same service area. The move is expected to step up competition in the mobile telephony industry, thereby improving the quality of service as all mobile phone players would make an effort to prevent customers from shifting to competitors.

The industry was divided on the issue of mobile number portability after the announcement was made. While one group called it a consumer-friendly move, another argued that it should have been introduced in a more holistic manner covering all operators (fixed and mobile). At present, only mobile phone numbers are being considered for portability.

Internationally, the cost of every switchover to another operator is around Rs 2,400, a source said. This fee is either paid by the subscriber to the network that he's switching to or the cost is shared by the new operator and the subscriber. Industry estimates suggest that anything between Rs1,500 crore and Rs3,000 crore is required as a one-time cost for upgrading the networks to enable number portability.

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