Nearly half a million South Africans have ported their telephone numbers from one mobile network operator to another.
That’s the word from Number Portability Company GM Clive Fagan, pictured, who says he expects the country will reach the 500 000 mark before the end of 2009, two years after the launch of the system that allows consumers to switch between mobile networks without losing their numbers.
By the end of August 2009, 450 000 people had ported, equating to an average monthly switching volume since the introduction of portability in November 2007 of about 13 500 subscribers.
Fagan says confidentiality agreements bar him from saying which network operators have been net beneficiaries of mobile number portability and which have lost customers on a net basis. But smaller operators — in SA’s case, Cell C — typically stand to benefit more from its introduction.
The Number Portability Company is owned in equal parts by MTN, Vodacom and Cell C. It was established primarily to the manage the database of numbers of people who have ported between networks.
The number of people who have ported in SA is slightly below the world average, Fagan says. This is due to a number of factors, chief among them the fact that the SA market is not yet saturated with Sim cards. “This has had a big impact,” he says.
When number portability was introduced two years ago, few people expected continued strong growth in the market. Sim card penetration in SA is now well above 100%.
That SA also has a high proportion of prepaid users has had a dampening effect. Though consumers lose their numbers, people have found it convenient simply to buy a new starter pack when they’ve wanted to switch networks.
However, with the introduction of new legislation meant to curb organised crime, Fagan thinks the number of prepaid users who port their numbers could rise significantly. Rica, or the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, requires people to furnish their proof of residence when they purchase a new Sim card.
Rica is also likely to put downward pressure on the mobile operators’ churn rates as consumers avoid the hassle of having to provide proof of residence to operators and service providers.
Another factor that has kept porting numbers lower than in some other markets is that once consumers have ported, they may not do so again for a period of two months. In Hong Kong, where porting numbers are high, people sometimes switch between operators on a daily basis to take advantage of new offers.
Fagan says South Africans tend to port their numbers because they perceive they’ll get a better service elsewhere. But this isn’t always the case and there is evidence that a few consumers have gone back to the network they originally ported from.
In Europe, where the market is saturated, operators have used number portability as a marketing tool. They entice consumers with better handset deals, for example. SA operators have been less aggressive as the market for new Sim cards is still showing robust growth, Fagan says.
However, SA consumers have used the threat of porting to negotiate better deals — better handsets, for example — from the network operators, he says.
Though he can’t supply exact numbers, Fagan says a significant percentage of the numbers that have been ported have been ported by companies keen to get their employees onto the same mobile network. They do this to take advantage of lower on-net tariffs. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
- Have you ported your number? Why did you port? And how did it go? Please share your experiences.