NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Eugene Juwah
In spite of envisaged challenges in the planned introduction of number portability across networks, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is of the view that the policy will deepen network operators’ commitment to their subscribers and boost quality of service, reports Amaka Eze. Excerpts:
Contrary to some stakeholder’s opinion that the planned introduction of mobile number portability will not make any impact on quality of service (QoS), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has again expressed high hopes that it will create the right level of competition, which is needed to deepen network operator’s commitment to its subscribers.
Number portability simply put, is a process expected to allow a network subscriber the access to switch from one network to another if he is dissatisfied with the service their network is offering without having to change his phone number- that is his identity.
With the same number therefore, a different network service can also be accessed if a subscriber is moving to a particular area where their original telecoms service provider does not have presence or sufficient service.
Director of Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Mr. Tony Job, told THISDAY at the weekend that the commission remained excited about the number portability, because it was the kind of innovation needed to make operators sit up and work harder in order not to lose their customers.
According to him, “The cliché that the consumer is key will become a reality with the mobile number portability, because we expect that the commencement of the number portability regime will put a burden on the service providers, to make sure that they improve on their Quality Of Service (QoS), and network capacity,” he said.
Explaining the rationale behind the number portability regime, Ojobo said the number portability was a kind of regulatory intervention coming from the NCC, to further deepen competition.
He said: “We needed to change the tactics. We needed something new, and creative, we needed something tasking, which will make the operators stand on their feet and address the challenges of quality of service faced by consumers in their various networks.
“The commission needed to further empower the consumers while they make the choice as to what network they chose to stay on. With the number portability, regime, if a consumer is not satisfied with the service of a particular network, he has the choice to switch to another network, without losing his number, which is his/her identity," he said.
Explaining further, Ojobo said what had kept some people on a particular number plan, was the fear of losing their numbers, which has become their identity. “They therefore tend to stick to a particular service provider, even when they are not enjoying that service.”
“There are people who have been on a particular number for ten years, so when they think about losing that particular number, and building their network of friends all over again, they simply remain with the stalling operator.” he said.
Ojobo started that with the commencement of the number portability regime however, people can move to a network that they feel will give them what they want. “We see a situation where it will deepen the competition in the market place, we will also probably see the service providers, coming up with all kinds of incentives that will lure the consumers to them, and make them stay or join the network.
He added that the commission was really excited about the number portability, and believed that that the various networks were investing on their networks, with regards to improving their infrastructure, so that at the time this number portability kicks off, it will simply be a win-win for all networks, rather than them losing their subscribers.
The Working Process
According to Ojobo, the commission has issued the license for number portability service in the month of March 2012, and were given six months to build its infrastructure.
He said: “In the initial discussions the commission had with the telecoms operators, and also taking from the best practice around the world, it usually takes a period of six months from the day the license is picked, to roll out, so six months down the line, with the license picked up in March, 2012, the Number Portability should be switched on in October 2012.
“Whatever else is going on after we have gotten the license, should be at the end of the consortium of the three companies namely Interconnect, Saab Grintek and Telecordia, but we expect that by October, the number portability regime must have kicked off.
“When we get to that stage, the competition in the sector will actually begin to seem different, and that is when the consumers will fully exercise the power they have.”
While shedding more light on the roll out process, Ojobo said it was expected that in the first few months after the number portability was rolled out, there should be some movements from the subscribers to other networks until there is stability on the service.
According to him, “We anticipate that at the commencement, there should be some kind of movement, expect where the networks decides to really ensure that their quality of service improves substantially, otherwise we will definitely see some movements from one network to another, until it stabilises.
Explaining that the stake would lie in the hands of the consumer to decide which network she/he chooses to be on, Ojobo said there would however be some kind of guidelines, which will be laid down, to guide against the abuse and distortion of network by subscribers who might like to switch more frequently than was required.
He stated that there would be a memorandum of understanding (MoU), and guidelines- which is why NCC recently issued a public notice, called ‘Publication of Business Rules, and Port Order Processes, for Mobile Number Portability in Nigeria.’
Explaining further the rationale behind the notice, Ojobo said the given the powers conferred on it by Section 128 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, the commission had published the Mobile Number Portability Business Rules & Port Order Processes (Draft).
The notice read: “The Business Rules and Port Order Processes has been published on the commission’s website and can be accessed by all stakeholders and interested persons. By this notice, the Commission invites comments from mobile telecommunications operators to look at the port order processes, and make vital suggestions.”
According to Ojobo, the port order processes indicate the processes that will have to be followed with number portability, so that there will be no abuse of order.
“When someone applies, there should be a specified number of days on she/he will have to wait before the application is confirmed.
“With the Business Rules and Port Order Processes, we expect the mobile telecoms operators to carefully go through the order, look at it well, and make their comments.”
Ojobo said: “In clears terms, what this means is that if I use a network, and want to switch to another, I will have to first of all apply to my network to port me to a particular network. But because there are rules guiding the switching; there will be a particular number of days in which the request can be treated. And if there is a particular reason why your number cannot be switched to another, you will be notified.”
Speaking further, Ojobo said the consumer has to ensure that she/he does not have any reliability. “The concerned subscriber must ensure that as a post-paid or pre-paid consumer, you have no outstanding bills, because it will have to be put into consideration, and serve as a criterion before you are ported to another network.”
He also said the telecoms subscribers has until April 30, 2012, after which the commission would look at the comments, carry out certain amendments on the draft, before having it published as the guideline to the number portability regime in Nigeria.
Benefits of Number Portability
According to the public relations director, the number portability regime will bring a lot of things to fore, in terms of qualities of service, customer service, resolve of complaints, issues of arbitration and network capacity.
He said the commission was hoping that problems related to quality of service and customer service would be a thing of the past as the regime sets in.
“It’s indeed going to be an exciting period for the Nigerian telecoms consumers, because network operators who know the drills should be working on how to stabilise the network, just to avoid loss of customers.”
“Customer loyalty will become a major issue where the operators are concerned, and they will be more bothered about retaining their customer’s loyalty.
“However, the truth remains that the customer’s loyalty will only be retained based on the kind of services provided by the network. I therefore see some kind of competition among the networks, who will not like to lose customers.
“The onus is therefore on the service provider, to dimension their infrastructure, in such a way that they will not lose customers, but rather gain the loyalty of other subscribers from other network.
Ojobo also said the loyalty of a subscriber to a particular service boils down to the type of customer service in place.
“How are network conflicts resolved? How long does it take a network to resolve a complaint that comes from the customers? How close is the customer’s service to the customers? How pervasive can they be?
“For instance, someone who is in a local or remote area, and has issues with their service, how is this issue likely to be resolved? Do they have to travel long distances before they can talk to somebody? Or will they have this service in their locality?
Ojobo said these were some of the kind of things that would determine where a customer would be. “You must be aware that in most localities, customer service centres are not there, so a smart network, might establish this service centres, or maybe have some kind of arrangement, where complaints can be resolved as quickly as possible.