[jumbotron]Olawale Johnson Dasaolu, in this winning essay “The Effect of Mobile Number Portability on Telecom Services and Usage in Nigeria” shares his perspective on the programme that enables mobile phone users switch network operator without losing their unique phone numbers. Dasaolu was announced winner in the the Competition on Mobile Number Portability organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)[/jumbotron]
Telecom services have become an indispensable part of modern living, indeed the mobile phone has become an indispensable tool for communication and a myriad of other things. Telecom usage constitutes an indicator of national development (ibid).
The Concise Oxford Learners Dictionary tenth edition defines telecom as a short form of the word Telecommunications, which means the branch of technology covering communication over a distance by cable, telegraph, telephone, or broadcasting, it further defines service as the action or process of serving . Accordingly telecom services can be defined as those services provided in respect of telecom based communication, encompassing two parties the service provider and the service user.
Furthermore telecom usage can be defined as the act of using telecom technology for the purpose of communication. The rate of telecom usage in a country is its teledensity (ITU). Mobile telephony is but a subset of the larger whole of telecom services (ibid).
Various number portability types exist, however focus shall be on Mobile number portability(MNP) which has been defined as the ability of mobile subscribers to switch between service providers while retaining their original mobile phone numbers (Smura 2004), i.e. customers can change service providers without having to change phone numbers (Levin 2006).
MNP is considered a consumer right in many parts of the world, 60 countries have so far adopted MNP (Keynote Capitals 2002). Its first implementation in Africa was by South Africa and West Africa by Ghana.
Section 128 of the NCA vests NCC with the exclusive right to regulate numbers and number portability in Nigeria.
The teledensity ratio of Nigeria has grown from 0.4% to 86.62% in 11 years rendering it one of the fastest growing telecoms markets in the world.
However quantitative growth without qualitative advancement plagues the sector. It is against this backdrop that MNP was implemented.
OBJECTIVES OF INTRODUCTION
It is posited that three cardinal aims exist for the introduction of the MNP scheme in Nigeria by the NCC (NCC Business Rules and Port Order processes).
Firstly, the MNP scheme was introduced to facilitate consumer choice as this is the foremost justification for the introduction of MNP in any country (Kojo 2013),significant goodwill is attached to mobile numbers as a means of unique identification (Smura 2004, Buehler Dewenter & Haucap 2006).
Customers put a high premium on their phone numbers poor services notwithstanding, with the goodwill and economic costs of abandoning their numbers serving as a strong limitation of consumer choice (Gerpot, Rams & Schindler).
Secondly, to foster competitiveness in the telecom services environment it is believed that increased competition will drive tariffs lower than their current position (Kola, Oyebode & Akinsola), Also increased competition is always in the best interest of consumers(Odi and Onuoha).Lastly, to encourage better quality of service by the service providers (ibid).
EFFECT ON SUBSCRIBERS
The introduction of the MNP scheme has its advantages for mobile subscribers in Nigeria especially those who have successfully ported their numbers to the desired networks.
MNP as a tool for fostering consumer choice and competitiveness has been ineffectual so far, as no substantial change in the structure of Nigeria’s mobile subscriber base has resulted since its introduction, neither has there been a marked improvement in quality of service.
Nigerians still groan under the yolk of poor and unreliable telecom services. The objectives of the MNP scheme introduction in Nigeria to further foster competitiveness and engender consumer choice in Nigeria’s telecom services sector are unfulfilled as yet.
Its effect on telecom usage is insignificant as Nigerians believe in dual sims thereby fuelling growth of connected and inactive lines (ibid).
EFFECT ON PROVIDERS
This encompasses costs of upgrading network infrastructure, Advertising expenses, setting up and maintaining new infrastructure (NPDB, routed caller database, etc.) section 5& 5.1of the Nigerian MNP business rules and port order processes (Khan 2012), this fact informed the decision of the NCC in making its business rules which mandates the ported subscriber to stay on the recipient network for 90 days for cost recovery.
The market effect is negligible, our sub-Saharan neighboring nation Ghana as a case study where MNP was introduced in July 2011, it caused the leading service provider to lose as much as 5% of its market share by June 2013 indicating facilitation of consumer choice and competitiveness (NCA GHANA) also the standard rate of porting per month was 15355.35 mobile subscribers in a market of 19 million subscribers.
However statistics in Nigeria pale in comparison to what has just been painted 13,923 total ported numbers out of 117 million subscribers as at June 2013 after 2 months of introduction, a highly negligible percentage 0.000119%, with the number of ported numbers actually falling from 7,164 reported ported numbers in May to 5,759 in June. The numbers are indeed a great let down from the lofty forecasts being made before the MNP introduction in Nigeria and much fanfare surrounding its launch. Total ported numbers rate of 000119% in Nigeria as at June 2013 so far abysmally unconvincing.
Lack of awareness of the bulk of the subscriber base, poor publicity, difficulty of porting ,speed of porting ,willful complication of the process by network operators ,economic and technical limitations e.g. the fact that the same old mix that largely constrained the choices of the Nigerian mobile subscribers such as geographical reach of the individual networks ,and the extent and quality of network infrastructures still prevail, have combined to perpetuate the erstwhile dominant players without significant modification(ibid) ,lack of substantial investments by less dominant providers in network infrastructure to radically alter their competitiveness.
Conclusively, MNP introduction in Nigeria has entrenched global best practices locally, signaled a firm commitment by the regulatory body in Nigeria to promote ‘demand side’ policies in the telecoms services sector in Nigeria, the mobile telephony subsector in particular (ibid). However, it still has a long way to go if it is to fulfill the many laudable objectives that have been expressed as its aims.