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Mobile Number Portability rings low

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 6 – Barely a week into its rollout, the government is already casting doubts that Mobile Number Portability will have a major impact on the Kenyan mobile telephony sector.

Information Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo has forecast that portability – which enables subscribers to migrate to their preferred operator and still retain their original number – will be undermined by the fact that many Kenyans already have more than one handset and Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards which enable them to enjoy the services of two or more service providers.

"It (number portability) fails everywhere but we had to do it. People have many phones and so why would they move when they are already customers in the various networks? I cannot see it succeeding," he said matter-of-factly.

Out of the 62 countries that have introduced number portability, few have seen more than 30 percent of subscribers in the markets using the service.

Besides the phenomenon of subscribers holding two SIM cards, there is also the issue of long delays before porting and the porting fee which locally has been capped at Sh200 – way above the cost of a new SIM card.

Statistics seem to validate the PS\’s projection given that since the implementation kicked off on April 1, only 300 Kenyans have used the service.

Should it fail to work, the PS added that the mobile phone operators should not blame the government since they should have undertaken a market assessment to determine the viability of the system before it was rolled out.

"Those who invested had a business case. The government responded to their (operators) appeal to have the policy on number portability; we cannot tell you what is a good business.  It\’s up to them now to see how to do it," he emphasised.

Last week, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) said the implementation of the service was meant to provide the infrastructure to Kenyans wishing to migrate to other networks while avoiding the inconveniences associated with moving and in effect enhance competition in the industry.

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"It is not our intention to make people port. Our primary aim is to provide the feature and make it available so that people can use it at their own convenience," said CCK Assistant Director of Licensing Christopher Kemei.

Mr Kemei was also quick to point out that the success rate of the service should not be measured against the number of customers who port but by the quality of infrastructure and the competitiveness that will be generated in the telecoms sector.

It\’s only the first week since the implementation kicked off and only time will tell whether it will be successful or not.

And as this gets underway, Porting Access, the firm that is carrying out the exercise has asked mobile operators to develop databases of their customers which would enable it to determine the validity of those customers wishing to migrate and which would in effect make porting process more convenient.

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