Phone number portability driver to better coverage


Published on 07/12/2008

Kenya’s telephony subscribers will from early next year have the privilege of retaining their existing telephone numbers, even when they change service providers.

The proposed move is convenient to subscribers as they would no longer have to carry additional SIM cards, due to the ability to switch to another network, while retaining one’s earlier number.

This follows an announcement in November by industry regulator, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), that it would introduce service provider number portability (SPNP) in the country between March and September next year.

The CCK defines SPNP as a “telecommunications network feature that enables consumers to retain their telephone numbers whenever they decide to change their service providers or service types, for example from GSM to say CDMA or fixed through a process called ‘porting’.”

Number transfer

CCK defines ‘porting’ as the act of “transferring your existing number to a new service, either with a different network or a different provider, or both.”

The main benefit of SPNP ois the enhancement of subscribers’ freedom of choice, as they are free to choose a new mobile service provider without losing an existing number. The regulator has already developed a consultation paper on number portability, where the public and stakeholders have been invited to forward their views and comments by December 15 this year. According to the consultation paper, “number portability will enhance competition in the current multi-operator environment, by providing consumers with the flexibility to choose the desired service provider in a seamless manner, and without having to worry about the prospect of having to be out of contact with business associates, friends and family.”

The introduction of number portability has been discussed in the past ,but the issue was shelved. In 2004, CCK initiated public consultation on the subject.

Arising from this, it was felt that the market was not ready as there were only two licensed mobile operators in the country – Safaricom and Celtel Kenya (now Zain Kenya). It was therefore feared that introduction of number portability would have resulted in unnecessary churn.

The paper says that “members of the public supported the introduction of number portability, but raised concerns on the possibility of loss of tariff transparency, which comes with SPNP.”

This is because there was a very big difference on the applicable tariffs between on-net (within network) and off-net (across network) calls and since callers would not be able to tell on which network the called party is served from, there was danger of callers incurring huge bills without prior knowledge.

Implementation

It was consequently resolved to defer implementation of number portability, until there were at least three mobile operators in the market, and the difference between off-net and on-net tariffs has been narrowed down.

The number of mobile operators in the country has now increased to four, with the recent launch of services by Orange (Telkom-Kenya) and the launch of Econet Wireless Kenya.

The consultation paper notes that “the ongoing implementation of the unified licensing framework, and a new interconnection framework, has made this time most opportune for the introduction of SPNP, in order to give consumers the benefit and flexibility of changing services providers, and to further enhance competition in the market.”

However, even as its eventual introduction becomes more imminent, most of the country’s network operators are not supportive of number portability. Zain-Kenya Managing Director Rene Meza, says their network in Kenya covers approximately 88 per cent of the population, and the company does not see number portability as the driver for better coverage.

On modalities of how the new system would work in the country, he says “it is too early to speculate on the exact modalities of how number portability will work between operators as it has not been designed and agreed.”

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