Monday, April 29, 2013

Number portability: Why most Nigerians may never port

Azuka Onwuka

The mobile number portability came into effect last week, Monday, April 22, 2013. With that, Nigerian mobile telephone users can now move from one network to another without losing their numbers. But there was not much excitement from Nigerians, in spite of the fact that the introduction of the MNP was meant to give them more freedom. The only news story concerning the MNP was that actor Saka–Hafiz Oyetoro – who was long associated with Etisalat Nigeria in most of the company’s TV commercials was shown in a TV commercial, on the same day the MNP started, dancing and singing that he had “ported” to a rival telecoms provider.
Why are Nigerians not excited about the MNP? The answer is because it came too late in the day. And the bulk stops on the table of the Nigerian Communications Commission, which foot-dragged on the issue all this while, only to allow it to come into effect at a time most Nigerians had embraced other alternatives. The agitation for the MNP began over seven years ago, but there were allegations that one of the top Global System for Mobile Communications providers, fearful that it would be the biggest casualty of such a service, worked assiduously behind the scene to delay it until it would no longer be necessary for customers to port.
My experience with the mobile phone system is similar to that of many Nigerians. From 2001 when GSM was introduced into Nigeria, I had one GSM line until around 2006. I was eager to move to another network because of unsatisfactory service, but I did not want to lose my number, which many people had known me with it. One thing I hated was bearing two phones in my hand. I saw people who had more than one phone in their hands as queer.
Eventually, because the Code Division Multiple Access operators were becoming popular and had a different tariff regime, many people began to add a CDMA line to their phone cache. Calls within CDMAs were low, unlike the high call rates the GSM companies had then. I got one CDMA line and my wife got one too.
Eventually, because of continued dissatisfaction with my GSM line, I grudgingly got another GSM line, when it was obvious that the MNP was not taking effect any time soon. But I did not throw away my first GSM number for fear that some of my contacts would not be able to reach me if I did.
From having three phone lines – two GSM and one CDMA – I added another GSM line, because a network offered me the opportunity of choosing the number I desired. That brought my phone haul to four. One person, four phones! But that is not end of the story.
A business relationship later on made me to get a fourth GSM number, bringing my phone arsenal to five: four GSM lines and one CDMA. If I used to see people with more than one phone as queer, what should I think of myself now if not crazy? But thank God for customer-focused companies who produce three-SIM telephone handsets.
In this acquisition of mobile phone lines, my wife respects me and does not like to beat my record; so she has four phones: three GSM lines and one CDMA. Why are we so blest in this nation?
Now, why on earth should I be interested in NCC’s MNP? Why should I bother with porting or re-porting? I have got the same responses from friends and associates since this MNP news broke. To avoid being accused of presenting my view as the view of other Nigerians, I decided to conduct a mini-survey on my Facebook wall on the issue. So I posted the question: “Now that the mobile number portability has taken off, will you port? If yes, why? If no, why not? Please share your views unhindered. Thanks.”
About 90 per cent of the respondents said they would not port. The only two who said they would port, said angrily that they would rather port from one of the top GSM operators to a smaller operator.
The first respondent, Lekan Shola, said: “I don’t need to port because I currently have Airtel, MTN, Etisalat, Glo and Visaphone lines. And none holds any serious qualitative/customer service edge over the others.” Three people liked his comment. The next respondent, Niyi Adewale, concurred with Lekan by saying: “Oh yes; same thought.”
The third respondent, Olamide Elizabeth, echoed the same point: “I won’t port, simply because I already have all the networks; so no need. Moreover, all of them are the same, erratic service as usual.”
Chike Kanu said: “Portability simply means jumping from frying pan to fire. Thanks to multiple SIM handsets. If MTN is messing up I switch to either Glo, Airtel, or Etisalat. That way, you avoid jumping into fire.”
Nnenna Azuka wrote: “MNP came too late. I currently have two phones, one housing three SIMs and the other my BB. All the networks offer same terrible service. Even if I had only one phone, there is no encouragement to port. Did you see the litany of steps one has to take to marry another network for 90 gruelling days? I would rather buy a N100 SIM card than go through the process.”
However, one respondent saw it as being capable of enhancing competition. Said Matthew Ogagavworia, “We need to watch the shape of the competition in the next 90 days to take a firm decision. Certainly, it is a game-changer.”
According to the NCC, before porting can take place, the subscriber must meet certain conditions: his/her mobile phone number must be registered; the subscriber wishing to change from one operator to another is expected to terminate service with his/her existing service provider before initiating porting with the new service provider; the subscriber must visit a customer care office, retail shop or outlet of his/her chosen new service provider and meet with the authorised sales person to request to port his/her number; the subscriber must present a proof of identity such as identity card,
passport or driving licence or an officially-validated photographic identity document; once porting has taken place, a subscriber must use the network for 90 days before being eligible to port again.
With such conditions, which subscriber will look forward to porting, when it will cost far less to get a new SIM card?
The GSM technology has changed lives in Nigeria since its introduction in 2001. It has created thousands of jobs. It has made life and communication easier. It has enhanced business operations. Nigerians have also embraced it with open arms. Today, according to the NCC latest figures, at the end of January 2013, Nigeria had 154 million connected lines, out of which 114 million were active. That made Nigeria’s tele-density to rise from the 80.85 per cent it stood at by the end of December 2012 to 81.78 per cent at the end of January 2013. Tele-density is the percentage of connected lines in relation to the population in a given period of time, and its growth is proportional to the growth in telephone subscriber base. Between December 2012 and January 2013 (one month), 1.3 million phone lines were added. Between January 2012 and January 2013 (one year), 18.3 million lines were added to the subscriber base of phone users in Nigeria, which was a 19.1 per cent rise.
So, Nigerians have embraced mobile phone use heartily in these 12 years, in spite of some disappointments they face in terms of service quality and call charges.
These two points of service quality and call rates seem to be the two most important areas of concern to most Nigerian subscribers. Thank God, NCC has stopped the barrage of promos and lotteries that saw some GSM offering ridiculous prizes. After 12 years, the GSM companies should have gone beyond their teething problems; they should be cruising at an altitude of excellent call service by now.
Nigerian subscribers want to port, but not from one network to another; rather they want to port from run-of-the-mill telephone service quality to excellent service. They deserve it for their long years of loyalty and patience.

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