Number Portability… Really?


Half a year ago, the CCK approved the number portability service in Kenya, a move that, for many in the industry was supposed to signal an end(or at least a major dent) to the domination by telecoms giant Safaricom in relation to market share by subscriber numbers and profit margins. It was highly supported by Airtel KE as it WAS seen as the biggest challenge to Safaricom‘s dominant behavior. They had claimed that Safaricom was acting like a bully, and needed to be tamed. This was it’s medicine; the freedom to its subscribers to opt out of the network to other networks’ more “superior” services.

However, six months later, the operator still enjoys it’s monopoly tendencies on mobile telephony here in Kenya.

Esmond Shahonda in his article on 8th August 2011 gives a good statistical analysis on the teething problems associated with the service. Many subscribers( like me) felt short-changed at the whole idea. The promise hyped on mass media outlets was far from what was going to be happening on the ground. Ideally, number portability was supposed to be a solution to the fact that many Kenyans had more than one phone, each with a sim-card of a different network. As many of us are risk-averse, we waited to see if the number portability idea would be a novel idea before actually delving into it.

Maybe our risk averse nature was actually a good thing. Too many of the people who wanted to change networks experienced so many problems. The promise was that the switch would be effortless, easy and all the companies had accepted to participate in the exercise.

Number portability was supposed to ensure that if network A had a promotion that promises I can call day for free, then I would just be able to select the network from a menu of the networks I have subscribed for and enjoy its services. If I would like to send money from network B to my father, I should just(in a few seconds) switch to that network and be able to do that transaction.

Portability, in the strict sense of the word means that the user of the service is able to move around from one network to another.What happened in Kenya was not number portability, I believe it was number retainment with the option to change to another network(not at will, but just once!)

A reality check in April revealed a slow up-take of the service. Porting Access, the company that manages the switching, released data showing that a paltry 43,545 porting requests had been received in the first month of inception.(Esmond Shihanda)

Out of 16 million subscribers in Safaricom, having even 100,000 subscribers being distributed over the other three networks means that they have lost 0.625% of their customer base. This means that there has to be reasons why the 99.375% have not left the network, even after it raised its calling costs by at least 33% two weeks ago. Here are a few, that in my opinion are very core to many subscribers:

  • Many of our friends and associates are on the network .This, coupled with the fact that it is “cheaper” to call within the network than outside.
  • Many places have that number as the day contact. Many places, from NHIF,NSSF to prospective employers have the Safaricom number as the contact. What if they call and they find that you cannot be accessed since you switched to a different network.
  • Services such as M-Pesa, data bundles, Okoa Jahazi, unlimited texts, twitter through texts and others are keeping the subscribers coming for more. The services may not be the best across networks, but the simplicity associated with accessing them is unparalleled by other networks. Que: How do you access internet settings on an Airtel, Orange or Yu line?

Of course it goes without saying that their advertising keeps us glued to them (whether consciously or unconsciously).This stems from statistics that it spends more on advertising than the GOK itself spends. We may not know it, but they know how we think and they manipulate it to their favor.

I personally do not think they truly support the number portability service. They stand to lose if people realize and act on the fact that their call rates are the highest in the country. The Zap service of Airtel is far cheaper than M-Pesa one at Safaricom. The Orange Money feature has a bigger balance that van be deposited. In yu, calls are for free 12hrs a day, at a cost of sh.2 a day to the customer.

What is going to level the playing field for the telecoms industry? I have the pointers and the companies should search for me because I know at least three ways to eat into the Safaricom share of the market. I am a Kenyan, who like other subscribers is wishing yu, Orange and Airtel had these three things and we would switch to the network.

For more reading on number portability, click here and read about the Ghanaian experience on number portability.

Have an innovative week.

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One thought on “Number Portability… Really?

  1. There isn’t much these networks can do about those who have had their lines since 2000. They should concentrate on recruiting new subscribers, especially high school kids.

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