All set for non-geographic number porting

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South African corporates and contact centres will soon be able to port their non-geographic numbers with 080, 086 and 087 prefixes, to alternative network operators.

This is according to The Telecoms Academy, which explains in a statement that all non-geographic numbers, also known as virtual numbers, have been successfully tested and ported in testing environments.

Telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is expected to implement the South African Number Portability Regulations of 2018 in the near future, adds The Telecoms Academy.

This means it will only be a matter of time before organisations which are holders of these numbers, mostly local enterprises with large inbound call centres, can officially port to alternative network operators that offer better deals.

“This issue has been a bone of contention in the telecoms industry since 2010, when geographic number portability was introduced,” notes Felicity Menge, founder of The Telecoms Academy, a telecoms consulting, training and talent acquisition firm.

“Non-geographic number portability will stimulate even more competition in the sector and provide exponential benefits, including improved service and lower cost-to-customer and businesses.

“We can expect to see the telecoms sales channel taking some strain as providers will compete in new channels which this move will create. The 086, 080 and 087 numbers are non-geographical and are often preferred by call centres with the largest amount of voice traffic.”

In an e-mail sent to ITWeb, ICASA confirmed Section 4(2) of the South African Number Portability Regulations of 2018 provides for the portability of the non-geographic numbers in the 080, 086 and 087 national destinations.

“However, the regulations are currently not in force until such time that the authority issues an official declaration and announcement for their implementation. The Ordering Specification System is still pending adjustment to allow a number of changes that were introduced by the regulations,” says ICASA spokesperson Paseka Maleka.

Mobile number portability (MNP) was launched in SA by 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.

In April 2010, ICASA announced the implementation of geographic number portability, also known as fixed-line number portability, leading to further competition and enabling consumers and businesses to port their landline numbers to voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), regardless of location. However, 080, 086 and 087 national destination code numbers could not be ported.

Local service providers offering VOIP services include Vox Telecom, Internet Solutions, Liquid Telecom, MTN, Vodacom Business and Euphoria Telecom, among others.

In 2010, The Number Portability Company was jointly established by Cell C, MTN, Liquid Telecom, Telkom and Vodacom to administer and track all porting processes.

According to the company, from 26 April 2010 to the end of August 2019, 1 707 944 geographic numbers have been successfully ported. This is an average geographic port of 15 387 per month.

ICASA dragging its feet

The Telecoms Academy’s announcement comes after SA’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) expressed concern over a week ago about the lack of transparency around the introduction of non-geographic number portability, accusing ICASA of dragging its feet on the matter.

Dominic Cull, ISPA regulatory adviser, explained in a statement at the time: “Consumers have received no word from ICASA on why, 13 years after the launch of mobile number portability in SA, we still cannot port non-geographic numbers (ie, 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087) which are used for toll-free, shared-cost, premium rate and general voice services.”

“ISPA members receive daily requests from consumers looking to port non-geographic numbers but are not able to accommodate these requests due to the delay in implementing the regulations. It looks like this delay could continue for years, to the ongoing prejudice of consumers.”

Many of these numbers are easy for consumers to recall (for example, Lifeline’s 0861 322 322 or CrimeStop’s 0860 010 111), and therefore especially valuable, because many public and private organisations have invested significant resources in promoting them over many years, lamented the ISPA.

Some of the challenges associated with porting non-geographic numbers, according to Menge, are the toll-free routing of the 0800 numbers and the fact that 086 numbers are not physical landline numbers, but are routed to landline numbers.

“Number porting brings with it numerous benefits to call centres in particular. Once the porting is implemented, the non-geographic numbers would become IP numbers, reducing end-users’ per line cost, per simultaneous call. This will provide massive potential savings to companies holding these numbers,” she explains.

Cell C complaint

On 26 August 2016, ICASA, aware of some irregularities and challenges in the implementation of the Number Portability Act, published a notice to conduct an inquiry into number portability for public comment. On 24 November 2017, ICASA published the draft number portability regulations for public comment and nine written submissions were received from Cell C, ECN, Huge Group, ISPA, Liquid Telecom, MTN, Switch Telecom, Telkom and Vodacom.

Last year, after public hearings were held, ICASA amended the Number Portability Act, introducing the “new” 2018 number portability regulations, including the reasons document.

In April this year, Cell C approached the courts for a review of certain aspects of the amended numbering portability regulations. In its complaint, Cell C said some provisions in the regulations harm its ability to port mobile numbers away from Vodacom and MTN.

ISPA believes this is one of the major reasons behind the delay in the implementation of the regulations.

“Unfortunately, Cell C’s decision to attack the entire set of regulations, rather than the specific provisions it has issues with, is damaging competition in the country’s telecoms sector and harming consumers. Furthermore, a win-at-all-costs approach has meant neither Cell C nor the other parties to this litigation seem interested in a speedy resolution,” ISPA pointed out.

ICASA has confirmed there is a pending court review application of certain provisions of the regulations; however, the authority maintains there is nothing in law that prevents it from implementing certain portions of the regulations, such as the non-geographic number porting.

“While the litigation is ongoing, ICASA should consider promulgating a commencement date of those sections that are not directly related to the porting process of mobile numbers.There is clearly consumer demand for porting. However, there seems to be no urgency from anyone to actually do anything about the current situation where the framework is in place but is not being put into force,” concludes Cull.

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