Wednesday, July 6

Switching between mobile networks possible in 3 years

Abdullah Mamun: Mobile operators said they will be able to let users switch from one operator to another without changing their numbers within two to three years.

Bangladesh Telecommu-nication Regulatory Commi-ssion is now taking opinions of stakeholders, including subscribers and operators, to introduce the service — mobile number portability (MNP).

More than 70 countries have MNP, which increases competition among operators in terms of service quality, said Md Sarwar Alam, BTRC secretary and spokesperson.

The process of taking the opinions on whether the service would be viable for Bangladesh, when it should be introduced and how it will benefit users started a month ago and will run till tomorrow, he said.

TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), said they will support the regulator in introducing the service.

But, he said, the process will face a huge challenge as complexities will arise out of the SIM tax issue or multiple interconnection exchanges (ICX) that connect one operator with another.

In Bangladesh, there are 26 ICXs to interconnect six mobile operators and a few others, including landline operators.

Operators, on behalf of users, pay Tk 200 tax for each SIM sold. The more users an operator loses, the higher its losses will be.

The telecom regulator has been with the plan to implement the MNP since early 2012. In June 2013, the BTRC gave operators seven months to introduce the service, but the companies were not ready at that time. Industry insiders said such an initiative takes at least two years to come into being.

Taimur Rahman, head of regulatory and government relations of Banglalink, said, “We believe MNP can be implemented by 2016.”
The challenges can be addressed by enforcing a fair transfer policy and making sure the transfer happens within a reasonable time, without disrupting the service.

India introduced MNP in early 2011 and more than 10 crore users changed their service providers till August 2013.

Pakistan came up with the service in March 2007, but scrapped it in November 2012 for security reasons, as unregistered SIM sales could not be controlled. However, the service was reintroduced after a week.

According to officials of mobile operators, MNP entails a complex mechanism, which is related to technology upgrades and considerable investment. They also warned of sizable risks if the process is not completed properly — if SIM registration is not done correctly, people might commit crimes taking advantage of the system, just like what happened in Pakistan.

The extra expenditure will also burden operators and customers will have to pay for it at their end, analysts said.

Mohiuddin Babar, spokesperson for Robi, said, “We are working with the industry in pursuit of finding feasibility and benefits of MNP.

However, we need to be cautious in this regard as it could not prove much worth in several countries.”

“Airtel Bangladesh appreciates the government’s decision to initiate MNP and believes that the service will promote competition in the market that will benefit both customers and operators,” its spokesperson said via a text message.

Mahmud Hossain, chief corporate affairs officer of Grameenphone, said, “The implementation of MNP is quite complex, as it requires major changes to the existing systems of the mobile operators. Besides, a new centralised system needs to be set up. There are various models, both technical and commercial, regarding the implementation of MNP.”

Bangladesh should go for a model that is simple and cost-effective, so that consumers can get hassle-free services at affordable prices, he said.
The BTRC offered two governance models to implement the service. It can be governed by a consortium of operators, which was replicated in Thailand, South Africa, Finland, Denmark and Pakistan. Or the regulator or the government can engage a third party to introduce the service. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, the USA, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, and India followed the second model.

“Operators think the service can be implemented by the consortium. We want to introduce a solution that is developed in line with the infrastructure of Bangladesh. We are in discussions with different MNP solution providers too,” said Kabir, the AMTOB secretary general.