Over 100 000 numbers ported

Johannesburg, 17 Jun 2010

Geographic number portability (GNP) has bucked speculation of failure, having ported over 100 000 numbers since the process started in earnest in April.

According to the Number Portability Company's (NPC's) figures, by the end of May, 100 456 customers had been successfully ported away from fixed-line operator Telkom. The company's GM Clive Fagan says the figure also includes several of the pre-ported large block numbers, which started last year.

Fixed-line porting was broken down into two segments by the Independent Communications Authority of SA, starting in May last year with large number blocks, belonging primarily to corporate businesses.

The second phase was implemented on 26 April this year, allowing individual consumers to take their numbers to a different provider.

Many industry players have welcomed the GNP implementation, saying it will provide much needed choice and competition in the telecoms market. However, some were concerned that the process would follow in the footsteps of mobile number porting, which was less than successful.

Better than mobile

Already, the large number of ported fixed-line customers has hit a fifth of the total mobile numbers ported since 2006, which at the end of May this year counted 576 276 ported customers. While mobile operators did not have large block porting, the significant number of ported fixed-line players is telling.

BMI-TechKnowledge MD Denis Smit says the large number blocks will dampen the blow to Telkom, although he says it is still quite a chunk of business hacked out of Telkom's already dwindling fixed-line subscribers.

“It just shows a pent-up demand for a new provider,” he adds.

Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Protea Hirschel agrees, saying the bulk of the numbers are likely from enterprise business and small to medium companies. She says the large figure indicates the fixed-line space has more competitive options for businesses than the mobile porting had for consumers.

Companies like Vox Telecom and ECN will now be able to strengthen their offerings, she says. “Businesses are actively looking at their telecoms costs and that will allow companies like Vox to attract clients,” she explains.

Welcoming choice

Andy Openshaw, ECN sales and marketing director, says the alternative provider is the first in its class of companies to test, run and complete the process of porting a Telkom geographic number.

Openshaw says the process will usher in a new era for the telecoms industry. “It's a big step for ECN. It now allows us to bring inbound traffic to our customers' same number. For ECN, it means we can transition from simply outbound to become a full service operator; we can offer them inbound and outbound communications. The customer can now choose to move completely off the incumbent,” he adds.

Openshaw says the company hopes to double its size under the number porting banner. “We feel the market is now ready.”

ECN Telecoms CEO John Holdsworth says: “This is very onerous for Telkom as it gives Telkom's clients the option to completely replace Telkom infrastructure onsite with an alternative from a new entrant. Historical LCR [least-cost routing] providers have cannibalised outbound traffic but now with GNP, it gives SA corporates the opportunity to completely replace all Telkom infrastructure with an alternative.”

Smooth process

Vox has also started porting customers, and says the process has been exceptionally long, but rewarding.

Vox Datapro MD Gary Sweidan says Telkom has done everything it can to make sure that when numbers are ported, everything works. “They have turned over every stone, and in the end it will only be good for everyone,” he adds.

NPC's Fagan agrees that Telkom has really done the job well, despite the massive losses it can expect from the process. “Telkom has gone out of their way to make sure that everything is perfect for porting. They have even put together a team to work on it,” he adds.

Telkom had not responded to ITWeb's request for comment by the time of publication.