Just like a thirsty traveller in a desert follows the mirage thinking that its water, Indian mobile subscribers have been waiting for mobile number portability for long. Little do they know that when mobile portability actually arrives, it’ll only be a mirage of what they hope for!! Mobile Number Portability is the ability for a subscriber to carry their mobile phone numbers and switch operators. Thus, by just paying a small fees of Rs. 19/- you would be able to change your mobile operator and still keep your same phone number.
Mobile Number Portability (MNP) exists in a lot of countries. Basically in most of these places, mobile numbers are considered as assets or belongings of an individual, similar to your house address. In India, it is being advertised by operators as an opportunity for customers to move to a ‘better’ operator, when you are dissatisfied with your current operator… and this is exactly why I say it’s a mirage!
Every operator has some number of customers who don’t like their service. From most people I have talked to, every operator has this group of dissatisfied customers. But since anyone who was dissatisfied would previously just change their phone numbers, it wasn’t a big deal for these customers… They are so fed up with the operators that they have already moved to the next operator. On the other hand, people who cannot change their phone numbers because the phone number is really important for them, generally adjust with the operator and the ecosystem balances itself naturally like any mature market does. What Mobile Number Portability is not doing is changing the infrastructure or the technology deployed by the operators. It does not change the policies, tariffs or customer service of the mobile operator. For a sector which is somewhat saturated in a lot of circles, it really is not much of a change agent.
If the reports from the pilot in Haryana is anything to go about, there really hasn’t been a large change in the customer base and market shares of the mobile operators. Other than Idea, most operators have not advertised a lot about MNP. Most operators are following a wait and watch policy and not many want to be first-movers in grabbing customers from others. Its been over a month for MNP in Haryana and that should have been enough to see the change factors because of MNP. But the lack lustre effects of MNP have shown that it is something that the market and the customers are not enthusiastic about. May be in other circles the market might be more dynamic, but we’ll only know when the nation-wide launch happens on 20th Jan, 2011. It will be interesting days to see how the different telecom circles work their way in the post-MNP era.
I think of the mobile operators today like politicians. Everyone is dissatisfied with politicians. There is always something to complain about them. Still you expect everyone should be voting and democracy should run smoothly.