Nigeria is moving closer to mobile number portability (MNP), a buzz word in the last couple of years but a few roadblocks seem to obstructing the crowning of the subscriber the king once again.
On the surface, MNP looks as simple as allowing subscribers to switch service provider while retaining their existing mobile number.
For the proponents of the initiative, it addresses most of the challenges faced by subscribers including poor quality of service.
For them, it helps competition, facilitates consumer choice and ultimately reduces switching costs.
Switching cost here does not refer to the amount paid to switch to another operator but a broader definition.
It includes the cost of changing numbers on business cards, notifying family members, repainting business vans because of changed numbers and so on.
In all respect, the mobile phone number is like a personal identity.
The growing trend of multiple mobile lines/numbers is driving Nigerians crazy.
It was on this basis that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms regulator is pursuing the implementation of MNP to afford Nigerians opportunity to migrate or port from one telecom operator to another without losing their mobile numbers.
The regulator has gone ahead to license a group of agents consisting of Interconnect /SaabGrintek/Telcordia for the exercise, to set up and implement number portability clearing house in Nigeria, and provide an MNP administration solution in the country.
NCC also has some protection shields for the subscribers in section 6 (3) of Nigeria mobile number portability , business rules & port order processes dated March 2012 which states that “neither recipient operators nor donor operators may make a charge to the customer for porting their number.”
Thinking ahead of subscribers who may opt to perpetrate fraud through number portability, the regulator, in Section 9 provided that: the mobile service providers have agreed to cooperate in good faith to prevent, wherever possible, instances of fraudulent or unauthorised activities
In that section also, the NCC provided that if instances of fraud are detected then the mobile service providers will endeavour to cooperate to identify and pursue action against the perpetrators of the fraud and that all cooperative activities will be conducted accepting the prevailing data protection and privacy laws applicable to the situation, and any other company or business laws which may be appropriate.
Envisaging dissatisfaction in one way or the other in the porting process, NCC stated as follows in Section 8: complaints specifically related to the porting process should be directed to, and be dealt with by the recipient operator who has submitted the porting transaction to the central order handling system, following their normal internal processes among others.
But there are some grey areas including timing for the implementation of MNP.
According to some critics the time was yet to mature because the networks are not robust enough to carry the capacity needed for number porting.
For instance, the recent fine imposed on four telecoms operators by the NCC for poor quality of service on their networks, as well as the reactions of affected telecoms operating companies is a pointer to the delicate nature of the networks.
In the time being, NCC should encourage networks to improve their quality of service provisioning.
It is also important to address the vexed issues of multiple taxes, vandalisation of telecommunications equipment as well as right of way.
NCC may also consider licensing at least two new mobile operators to engender healthy competition and give subscribers avalanche of choices.