Friday, September 22, 2017

Number portability not likely soon, say experts

The ability to change mobile operators but keep the same number is at least a year away from happening in Myanmar, industry insiders say.

Currently, signing up for an Ooredoo – or soon a Telenor – SIM means the user must receive a new number even if they have an existing number with a different provider, though in countries with “number portability” it is possible to move the same phone number to a different company.

The Consultation Document of the draft Telecoms Rules says that number portability is a good idea, but now is not the right time for Myanmar, according to a Telecom Myanmar Update report released by legal and tax advisory firm VDB Loi in September. It added the issue could be addressed again in 18 months.

Introducing number portability too early could cause a significant risk of harm to the incumbent operator – in this case MPT, it added.

Some Myanmar users told The Myanmar Times that although they are keen on the service and think it could be immensely popular, they think it is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Businessman U Zaw Zaw Myo Lwin said some users already have to own more than one phone because they cannot change numbers, with many having one handset for personal use and one for office use.

However, he said that since the first three digits of a number denote a distinct operator – Ooredoo numbers for instance start with 997 – it may be difficult for the operators to implement number portability.

Ooredoo Myanmar CEO Ross Cormack said that if customers really want number portability, they should have it. However, he agreed that the market may be too small to make such a service feasible.

“I do agree there’s a timing issue,” he said. “And it’s funny, some markets really love it, and other markets take it or leave it.”

He said in Hong Kong, where he had worked previously, there was large demand for the service, while in some of Ooredoo’s other markets only about 10 percent of numbers ever changed between companies.

“It does depend on what the customers want,” he said. Mr Cormack added there is some cost to put number portability into place.

Mr Koichi Kawase, general manager of KDDI Summit Global Myanmar, which has a joint operations agreement with MPT, said that he felt it is too early to discuss number portability.

“To my knowledge, number portability will come when penetration goes beyond 70 or 80pc” he said. Mobile penetration in Myanmar stood at about 13pc in 2013.

“So from my personal point of view, it’s a little bit too early,” said Mr Kawase.

Officials from the telecoms regulator declined to comment on the subject last week.