Absense of Mobile Number Portabilty in Uganda: The full thrust of Oligoploly power still reigns

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Let me start off with explaining what Mobile Number Portability (MNP) actually means, it is a way in which subscribers can change networks without changing their mobile phone numbers or SIM cards and still remain with the same digits. What this means is that if you like the tariffs or the network quality that mobile network X provides and you are on mobile network Y, you can seamlessly shift from Y to X without changing your number. How great does that sound? In 1996, Congress in the US passed the 1996 Act3 that sought to remove barriers that handicapped a healthy competition among players in telecommunications sector. And since then this has spread world wide as regulators implement Mobile Number Portability (MNP) in their respective country, in this case will it be possible in Uganda?

In Africa, Africa Egypt, South Africa and Ghana have implemented MNP and of recent Nigeria.  According to the Nigerian Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson. he siad

“We are going ahead with Mobile Number Portability, because it is going to give subscribers lots of choice and freedom. MNP will bring new dimension to the competition in the industry. All network operators will have to work harder to earn the trust of subscribers, because they will now have choices,”

“So what if my network has poor quality, I cannot leave it people are used to my mobile number, it will be a hustle to change”

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So Uganda will follow suit? The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is rumored to have been working on the implementation of MNP but it still has other actives high up on its to do list like mobile number registration and fighting counterfeit phones on the market. This clearly shows that UCC is in to protect the consumer from being exploited but the ultimate test for UCC will be implementation of MNP. With Uganda having more than 5 major Operators (MTN, Airtel, Orange, UTL and Warid) the scramble for mobile clientele is at its peak and as usual only the strong survive.

UCC has for the past few years carried out a quality survey to ascertain which operator has the best network quality and at the end do a name-and-shame game in the media. I recently had a friend who confidently assured me, “So what if my network has poor quality, I cannot leave it people are used to my mobile number, it will be a hustle to change”. I don’t know if this case applies to many fellow Ugandans, as reasons for one to be loyal to their network varies from good prices, good quality, brand name etc.

“I personally think that the resistance is not on the side of UCC but on the side of the leaders of this oligopoly sector”

Just to be clear MNP does not stop the quality of service issues we face in Uganda. If you look at the quality results released by UCC it’s clear we have a nationwide issue around service improvement. People have had the notion that Orange that always comes up first in the UCC network quality surveys year after year is the best because of their low number of subscribers.

But I always beg to differ with them and I always give an example of two families. Family A with 3 children and family B with 10 children, if you were head of family B, it means at some point you had 3 kids. Does it mean you will still continue to feed your growing family with the same amount of food you used to feed your 3 kids? Of course the level of quality of family up keep is different; the one with 10 children has to invest more in his family so that they enjoy the same level of life as family A with only 3 children.

With that out of the way, it is clear that mobile network operators in Uganda still have a long way to go, and UCC has to ensure the network operators are able to deploy the necessary infrastructure without hitches including bottlenecks of multiple taxation and regulations; right of ways challenges; fight against vandalism of ICT infrastructure among others.

Leading operators don’t want MNP, but is is such a threat?

When MNP is introduced most carriers think it will a massive threat to their businesses especially country’s leading operators like MTN and Airtel. I know it will be a challenge to implement, I personally think that the resistance is not on the side of UCC but on the side of the leaders of this oligopoly sector.

UCC is targeting to fine all operators who don’t meet the quality standards, because not only is it clearly in the need to find more avenues of milking the mobile operators, it also mandated to protect the consumer. If they were protecting the consumer I think MNP would be the most paramount solution and punishment enough for mobile operators that don’t keep their networks up to starch in terms of quality.

How other African countries are implementing Mobile Number Portability

South Africa’s three operators MTN, Vodacom SA and Cell C formed an independent company for the implementation and management of the central solution. After implementation delays, and later in 2006 the tender was awarded to local company Saab Grintek who teamed up with Telecordia Technologie.

 NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) has adopted a phased approach to the launch of Mobile Number Portability service in Nigeria. The process to port to CDMA networks will begin as soon as the GSM porting process is completed and launched. Mobile Number Portability will initially be available among the GSM mobile operators: MTN, GLOBACOM, ETISALAT, and AIRTEL.

“To change, or not to change: That is the mobile number portability question.”

In countries like Kenya the benefits of MNP may never be fully realized by the consumer. Seems the timing of the affectation of MNP was totally wrong, Communications Commission of Kenya CCK, has come in pretty late to introduce MNP among service providers. With 75% market share by Safaricom alone, it’s obvious that they have made the right choices in terms of products and services and the market share clearly reflects this; and that MNP is NOT the solution that will increase Airtel Kenya, YU mobile and Orange’s market share in the short run.

For the case of Uganda, MTN has about half of the voice market share, and I don’t see that number reducing tremendously once UCC gathers the courage to implement MNP. What would make a customer think of abandoning their current carrier and opt for another service provider? What unique product and services are lined up to entice the users to jump ship? The mobile operators will need to invest heavily in their customer care, network infrastructure, and product quality which are inherent considerations for any one customer once MNP is implemented. The introduction of MNP will show the real customers loyalty to their mobile service providers based on all factors mentioned above. To change, or not to change: That is the mobile number portability question.

As a consumer will you change your Mobile service provider once MNP is introduced in Uganda?