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Number neutrality in mobile shift

New Delhi, March 8: The telecom regulator has set the ball rolling on mobile number portability ' a facility that will allow a mobile subscriber to change the service provider but retain the phone number.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today came up with a set of recommendations, which it submitted to the depart-ment of telecom (DoT) for approval.

Trai set a timeframe of one year for implementing the number portability plan with April 1, 2007 as a tentative date for the rollout.

“Considering the present status of telecom services in India, it is an appropriate time to initiate the process for implementing mobile number portability so as to increase customer convenience, quality of service and further enhance competition among service providers in the mobile sector,” Trai said in its recommendations.

Porting of numbers, however, will come with a cost. Trai recommended that the operator to which the subscriber is moving “shall be permitted to charge a fee for successful porting”.

It is estimated that even if the entire cost is transferred to the porting customer, it works out to a one-time payment of around Rs 200 “which will enable the operator to recover his investment cost in three to five years”.

Initially, portability will be allowed within the same service area only, said Trai.

Trai also suggested that the scheme be implemented in a phased manner starting from metros and category A circles followed by B and then C category service areas at an interval of six months.

At present, 19 countries offer number portability. Singapore was the first to offer the facility back in 1997 followed by the UK in the following year.

The others who now offer the facility include Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland and Portugal.

Most telecom operators in India have been opposed to the concept of number portability because of the large subscriber base in India and the increase in churn rates that this could trigger.

The country has a total subscriber base (mobile and fixed) of 134.33 million, yielding a teledensity of 12.28. The churn rates in the mobile phone industry has now stabilised at a little under 5 per cent.

Trai, however, has ruled out number portability in fixed line, at least for the immediate future because of “non-availability of private operators’ networks in all short-distance charging areas (roughly tehsils)” and other factors.

Trai has also recommended the setting up of a number portability administration centre (NPAC) that will function somewhat similar to an inter-bank clearing house.

“The authority has come to the conclusion that this is not the appropriate time for introducing fixed number portability,” it said.

Net connectivity

To enable mobile phone users to receive high-speed Internet connectivity, Trai today recommended the usage of “strings” like # and $, saying without it the mobile customers would not be able to access the “always-on Internet connectivity”.

The National Numbering Plan 2003 issued by DoT does not explicitly bar their use but is silent about the use of such strings to indicate the option for high-speed Internet access within the service providers' network.

Trai said the strings used for keying in service option in a mobile handset is an integral part of the handset and are not transmitted further to the network.

Also, it is felt that if the use of such strings in both CDMA and GSM/GPRS networks is not explicitly allowed, customers of these networks will be deprived of access to high-speed “always on” Internet services.

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