Mobile number portability flops in India

The program was introduced in the country with a lot of fanfare but takeup has been slow

Mobile number portability has not taken off in India, with only about 1.7 million users applying for change of operator in the 15 days since the program was introduced, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

India had about 730 million mobile connections at the end of November last year, and it was expected that a large number of subscribers would rush to take advantage of the option that allows them to change operators while retaining their mobile numbers.

New operators were hoping to attract subscribers from some of the large incumbent operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar.

Users may have also delayed changing operators because of an ongoing investigation into alleged irregularities over the allocation of 2G licenses and spectrum to some operators in 2008. "There is uncertainty in the market, and people may delay shifting to the new operators," said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner.

The procedures for shifting to another operator are also not yet streamlined, which may have deterred customers, Bhatia added.

According to Gartner, except for an initial peaking, mobile number portability will not be a "game changer", with only about 3 percent to 5 percent of users shifting operators.

"There isn't a compelling reason for me to change operators," said K.R. Gnanoba, partner at a chartered accountancy firm in Bangalore. The quality of service and plans they offer are more or less the same, he added.

"I now have the power of choice, and feel truly like a consumer, not tied to any one operator," said K. Purushottam, a business consultant in Bangalore.

The threat of portability will make his operator improve its service or he will move if the others improve, he added.

The mobile portability program was introduced across the country on Jan. 20 after a number of delays. It was introduced on a trial basis in Haryana state in November.

Part of the reason why subscribers did not rush to change operators after the program was introduced is that a number of people already have more than one mobile connection to take advantage of the various plans offered by different operators, according to analysts.

About 96 percent of Indian mobile subscribers are pre-paid, and many of them do not have loyalty to a particular operator, and are not concerned about changing their mobile number, Bhatia said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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