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More unhappy consumers porting their mobile numbers

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 30 Aug 2019

Lack of service delivery from telco operators, and “cherry-picking” customers are among the factors leading to a higher than normal number of mobile number portability (MNP) requests in the local telecoms market.

This is the word from Riaan van Stryp, GM at end-to-end telecoms service provider ICTGlobe.

Number portability enables mobile and fixed-line telephone customers to keep their numbers, including their prefixes, when switching from one provider of mobile or fixed telecoms services to another.

In SA, MNP was launched by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in 2006, with the aim of allowing customers to port their telephone number between cellular networks Vodacom, Cell C, MTN and Telkom.

Since then, the service has boosted competition within the country’s telecoms sector, and has been hugely successful, with over eight million people choosing to change their mobile network operator, according to ICASA.

The regulatory authority says in 2017 there were around 48 000 numbers switched between mobile network operators each month. From April 2010 until March 2017, around 921 009 landline numbers were ported at an average of about 11 000 a month.

This number, according to ICTGlobe, has seen an increase to date.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests there is indeed a higher than normal amount of number portability requests at the moment in the local market,” says Van Stryp.

“Consumers port mostly due to lack of service delivery, or due to a better deal offered at a rival provider. It is worth remembering that the eight million figure only includes mobile users and not business or private lines, so the true figure is likely to be much higher.”

In April 2010, ICASA announced the implementation of geographic number portability in SA, also known as fixed-line number portability, leading to further competition and enabling consumers and businesses to port their landline numbers.

Number portability is today, according to Van Stryp, an ICT industry standard, with voice over Internet Protocol clients also enjoying the ability to switch providers while retaining their numbers.

“In order to lower their customer churn rate, telco operators should provide innovative solutions at reasonable prices and follow through on their service-related promises,” advises Van Stryp.

Brian Neilson, director at local market research firm BMIT, comments that the service provided by some operators leaves much to be desired.

“Some customers are more inclined to port because they are more active ‘cherry-pickers’ and take the trouble to seek out the best deal wherever they can find it. Mobile operators have been slow to respond to the trend around customers increasingly seeking data-heavy deals, thus inducing churn to other operators.

“Others experience poor coverage on a particular network around their home or work environment and therefore are motivated to switch, and others have a poor customer experience.”

This has contributed to the increase in the volume of numbers being ported in recent years, notes Neilson.

Neilson and Van Stryp note there are no publicly available stats to show which telco is experiencing the highest MNP request, but the “market's biggest providers usually have the most porting out requests” simply due to them having more customers.

“We do not have a breakdown of the numbers between these various categories, but suspect that the data-hungry ‘cherry-picking’ trend is the important one to watch right now,” adds Neilson.

Of those who opt for MNP, a significant number of consumers still face complex challenges when porting their number, notes Van Stryp. This is as a result of donor providers who facilitate the process taking longer to accept or reject port requests, with some recipient providers also taking somewhat longer to initiate porting requests.

“While most telecoms users are now familiar with the process of number portability, few understand that port requests can, in fact, be rejected,” points out Van Stryp.

“If incorrect information such as the wrong account number is provided, if the number being ported is not valid on the receiving network, or if the number has been suspended on the donor network then the port will be rejected. Other reasons for port rejection include a postpaid account being in arrears or the number having been ported before within three calendar months.”