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Worries as Kenya launches mobile number portability

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Nairobi, Kenya - Kenya  launched mobile number portability Friday amid mixed reactions from both industry and consumers.
The service will enable subscribers change network operators but retain their preferred numbers.
The big question however is whether Kenyans are eager to change networks.  
Mobile phone operators hold varied opinions on the viability of the service in the country. Airtel Kenya and Yu - owned by Essar - are upbeat and deem it as an opportunity to grow their subscriber base. Safaricom and Telkom Kenya - which operates Orange - are on the other hand indifferent about the service.
The consumer - the major factor that informed the need for the service - might have however been forgotten in the build up exercise to introduce the service as according to a new survey a significant number do not understand number portability.
The survey released Thursday shows that the uptake of the service in its initial phase faces hurdles because of the low consumer awareness.
The survey by research firm TNS RMS shows that despite the hype surrounding the process, few Kenyans are looking forward to migrating to other networks. A majority of them deem the process as cumbersome and costly and do not tally with the benefits to be accrued.
A key factor that will make subscribers stick to their current networks are services that they are enjoying, especially mobile banking services.
Once a subscriber changes operators, they will have to forego the services of the initial operator. Thus if, for instance a Safaricom subscriber switches to another network, they will not have access to its M-Pesa services.
"Consumer comprehension remains generally low, and the benefits are not considered clear or compelling. Some thought that it meant using the same number for multiple providers," said Bob Burgoyne, Associate Director, Technology, TNS RMS. "When the costs and details were explained, most participants did not think portability offered them sufficient benefits."
"One major drawback to switching identified by consumers was the loss of a certain mobile banking service should a switch be made. If regulators wanted to improve competitiveness, perhaps 'portability' in the mobile banking area would have more of an impact."
The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) said the idea behind introducing number portability was to introduce checks into industry.
CCK Director General Charles Njoroge notes that instead of looking at the number of people who will port, the regulator was interested in the checks that the process will introduce in the industry.
"Consumers will not be held captive because of fear of losing their contacts if they change networks," he said. "We are not against an operator having a huge market share, only that with MNP in place, you have to work hard to stay there. It means an operator will be sensitive to the needs of customers and respond fast to queries."
Airtel Kenya managing director Rene Meza looks at portability as a game changer in Kenya's mobile telephony industry.
"This is another key milestone for the sector in Kenya, subscribers will be able to switch telecom operator without changing phone number," said Rene Meza managing director Airtel Kenya.
"Customers who are unhappy with a service provider have been unable to change operators because they are attached to their number. Change of service provider also meant loss of number and loss of contact with previous contacts. This will now be a thing of the past."
He added that in the long term, number portability would reduce multiple SIM card holding phenomenon.
Ownership of more than one SIM is a common feature among mobile phone users in the country, who try to take advantage of different products and offers on the four networks and at the same time avoid loss of the initial number that has come to be an identity of sorts.
"It is definitely a worthy investment and we are looking forward to the host of opportunities and wider choice it will avail to consumers," said Madhur Taneja country manager Yu, the Essar owned operator.
Safaricom and Telkom Kenya, the other two operators, hold an almost similar opinion that number portability might not have meaningful impact, given the unique behaviour among consumers and the 'rock bottom' calling rates.
CCK's Njoroge said MNP is set to be the last major regulatory change the regulator expects to implement in the medium term, in its bid to level the playing field in the mobile telephony sector.
He said the move - which he termed as the last frontier in making the industry competitive - is expected to compel operators to be more sensitive to subscribers as well as increase product offering.
"We have reached a situation where prices are no longer an issue and now need to move on to customer satisfaction, improved quality of services and innovation among the operators," he said. There have been fears that operators might try to dissuade subscribers from leaving their networks by delaying the porting process.
Comments (1)Add Comment
Mobile Line portability
written by peter shimiyu, April 02, 2011
It is a wonderful idea to have one portable line. As i speak I have three differnt phones for different moble operators. Shimiyu

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