The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cellular operators balk at number game

Calcutta, Aug. 21: The telecom regulator’s decision to assign a unique number to cellular mobile subscribers has sent service providers into a tizzy. Operators say when the telecom infrastructure in the country is not developed enough, assigning unique numbers to users is like “asking for dessert when it’s hard to get two square meals”.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has decided to appoint a consultant to look into the issue of number portability and suggest a viable method of implementation.

Mobile Number Portability (MNP) helps subscribers to retain current cell phone numbers even if they change their mobile operators or circles.

“There are many issues before the telecom industry and number portability is the least of our concerns,” an industry source said. “The first priority is to increase penetration. MNP will require huge investments to upgrade switch capacity. Instead this investment can go into improving voice quality and providing better service to the customer.”

Service providers feel there are a number of legal issues attached to the MNP and fraudulent practices are likely to increase. For an industry that is already bogged down by declining revenues and the pressure of providing services at affordable rates, investing in new technology means bad debt.

The facility of a single number irrespective of location and operator is currently fully operational only in mature markets like Singapore, where growth is small and teledensity is high. MNP has been operational since 1997 and the industry is now working on fixed-line number portability.

Trai agrees that implementation of MNP is a complex process and requires changes in the numbering scheme and upgradation of switch capacity and network quality. Trai had even dismissed the number portability issue in a consulting paper published in 1998.

More than the cost of upgrading their respective networks for number portability, it is the risk of losing customers and revenue that has put service providers on guard against the number revolution. It is small wonder that telecom service providers have resisted or demanded more time for introduction of MNP.

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