Mobile number portability not much of a hit

New Delhi : About a year into operation, mobile number portability (MNP) that allowed telephone subscribers to change their operators without forgoing their existing numbers, has failed to enthuse customers as only over two percent subscribers have so far opted for the service.

“A key reason for the slow port-in and port-out is that 95 percent of the country’s mobile customers are in the pre-paid category. This segment has a monthly churn rate of 4 to 5 percent, indicating the segment is insensitive to number retention,” Samaresh Parida, director (strategy) of Vodafone India, said .

Industry experts also say the service has limitations with hassles like documentation, filling up forms, clearing dues and obtaining no-objection certificates from departing operators resulting in lower porting requests.

After several postponements, MNP was launched pan-India Jan 20 with much pomp and show. It was even expected to be a game changer.

Parida said Vodafone “never believed that MNP would be a game changer but we did expect that it will change market dynamics.”

Following the launch of the service, many telecom firms had gone ahead with several promotional campaigns to attract new customers and retain existing ones.

Although most of the companies now say MNP was never regarded a game changer, they nevertheless went all out with the marketing push, offering lower tarrifs and better services.

Idea Cellular’s advertising blitz “No Idea, Get Idea” was seen round the clock. Vodafone’s TV ads said “everybody’s welcome”.

“Though on an industry level MNP has not brought any significant change, Idea saw the maximum gain in the number of users who opted to port in our network,” said a spokesperson of Idea Cellular.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Idea Cellular has gained the maximum number of subscribers from other companies via MNP route with a net gain of 1.57 million users as on Nov 15 while the total number of subscribers who opted for this service stood at around 18 million.

Idea was followed by Vodafone and Bharti Airtel which respectively saw net gains of 1.2 million and 0.3 million customers.

India currently has 866 million mobile phone subscribers.

Experts believe that MNP will gain momentum once the draft National Telecom Policy (NTP)’s proposals of abolishing inter-circle roaming and extending MNP to national level are implemented.

“In order to gain customers you need to be different. Quality of service and plans offered by most of the operators are almost the same,” said Abhishek Chauhan, senior consultant for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) practice, Frost and Sullivan, a research and consulting firm.

“The day they allow intra-circle MNP there should be a significant improvement.”

However, a report by the firm says that while customers will gain post-implementation of draft NTP proposals, it will be detrimental to the growth of operators in a high churn-low average revenue per user scenario.

“National MNP will further increase churn and will unleash yet another tariff war in the country which will impact the operator’s margins, thereby negatively affecting their investment on infrastructure,” said the Frost and Sullivan report.

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