Kenya Gears Up for Mobile Number Portability

Telecoms

After over six years of boardroom talk on implementation of mobile number portability, Kenya's mobile telephony scene looks set to roll out the system beginning Friday (March 25,2011).

The plan has been subject to intense debate between industry regulator, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and the four main mobile phone operators--Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and YU--who are likely to see their operational environment greatly unsettled by the development.

Mobile Number Portability allows subscribers to switch their networks without changing mobile numbers. Last week, CCK moved to assure Kenyans that the system would still be implemented beginning April 1.

"The process of implementing MNP services in the country has been quite consultative and inclusive. Since inception of the project, the Commission has engaged mobile industry players in extensive consultations and discussions, which culminated in the signing of an agreement on December 17 2010 in which all operators agreed to implement mobile number portability by April 1 2011," said Charles Njoroge, CCK director general.

According to the latest reports of the technical meetings, all operators were tested their MNP systems during the week ending March 19. "The mobile operators and Porting Access Kenya have displayed utmost commitment and co-operation. Although the mobile operators may not be exactly at the same level of preparedness, the Commission is yet to receive any formal notification suggesting inability to implement MNP by the agreed date of April 1, 2011," added Njoroge.

He however stated that CCK "shall continue monitoring progress in respect to implementation and inform the public accordingly," a key issue and concern for most of the country's over 22 million mobile subscribers who up to now know very little about number portability leave alone when it will be implemented.

"When you call a number that has been ported, you will first hear an audible warning tone (three beeps) before the ring tone or ring back music where applicable. Once the other person answers the call, the off-net tariffs will apply," wrote Christopher Wambua, CCK's deputy director in charge of communications on KICTAnet, while responding to how subscribers will know when a number has been ported.

Number portability in Kenya, is being done in an environment of reduced voice and SMS tariffs, which analysts contend could have a significant impact on the success and adoption of number portability in the industry. This is because among the main reasons people port (or change networks without the need to change their subscriber numbers) is the differences in call and SMS tariffs charged by operators.

The reduced tariffs in the market introduced by all the four operators means that subscribers who would have previously found porting attractive might decide to stay connected to their present networks.

The significantly reduced rates in response to the CCK's downward revision of call interconnect rates from $0.06 (Kshs4.42) per minute to $0.03 (Kshs2.21), were effected after a network cost study by UK's Analysis Mason. Zain Kenya was the first to drop its call rates to $0.04 (Ksh3) per minute last month, forcing Safaricom to also introduce new tariff structures.

The other mobile service providers--Telkom Orange and YU--also made reductions on their voice and SMS tariffs.

Most networks currently charge less than $0.012 for on-net calls and SMS with only Safaricom, the industry's dominant player with over 19 million subscribers, still charging $0.035 for on-net calls and $0.012 for on-net SMS while off-net calls are charged $0.47 and SMS $0.04. The move by the CCK to review the rates downwards was aimed at encouraging telecoms operators to lower call tariffs, the aim being to gradually reduce the interconnect fees to $0.013 by 2013.

Rene Mezza, Airtel Kenya Chief Executive said in an earlier interview that porting would "positively increase competitiveness in the industry," as subscribers would be looking forward to improved services as well as lower service charges. "With MNP, differentiation among mobile service providers will no longer be based on pricing but a combination of value propositions mainly value added services, customer service and network coverage and quality," said Mezza.

Netherlands based Porting Access was awarded a contract to supply, install, commission and manage porting services in the country after paying a license fee of $2,564 to the CCK. The firm committed to invest between $2,032,370 and $1,968,750 per year in the coming years to boost uptake of MNP while subscribers would be charged $2 (Ksh173) per port though details about how frequently one can port are yet to be worked out.