By Yusus Abdulhamid
Given the recent decision by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to introduce number portability, many industry watchers have been wondering what impact this could have on the burgeoning telecom sector. In this Interview, Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Steven Evans, identifies how the move will unlock the hidden potential in the sector.
How would you explain mobile number portability to a layman?
Mobile Number Portability (MNP) is a practice in the mobile telecommunication industry whereby a customer can move his number from one network operator or service provider to another. This process of transferring customer numbers between service providers is called ‘porting.’ Generally, telecommunication regulatory bodies approve porting of mobile numbers only and usually on GSM networks because this is easier, quicker and more successful to do.
Are there challenges that Number Portability will face in Nigeria? I do not see immediate challenges that should prevent MNP being implemented in Nigeria, especially given that the industry is dominated by GSM operators. This will make MNP implementation very straight forward and be very similar to the way it has been implemented in many other markets around the world. Sometimes, operators will cite the cost they bear in terms of getting their networks ready for MNP as a barrier to implementing portability. But the truth is that the real costs are inflated. It is a usual tactic to delay the introduction of MNP or to try and convince the regulator that the market cannot afford the costs of MNP. Sometimes, there are fears that MNP could have negative impact on mobile network operators, but with the modern technologies available today, this possibility is eliminated.
What benefits does Mobile Number Portability bring to the telecommunication industry? There is a big challenge to telecommunication customers’ choices which industry experts do not really emphasise. It is called number lock-in. Once a subscriber has a number from a particular network, it is usually locked-in into that network. This means that the subscriber is tied to the good and bad things that the service provider offers. However, with Mobile Number Portability, an opportunity arises for a subscriber to switch to another network without having to buy another SIM. With this, the customer now has real options on where to go for their mobile services and with competitive offerings from various providers, quality of service is improved, new products developed and a wider distribution and more affordable price plans are made available to subscribers.