Finally, there has been no last-minute backing out and mobile number portability (MNP) has been rolled out in at least one telecom circle in India–Haryana. The rollout for rest of India has reportedly been scheduled for January 20, 2011. (The MNP kick-off, first expected to happen on December 31, 2009, has been late by 11 months.)
MNP is touted as a consumer-empowering tool and therefore draws more than usual attention from operators. Not surprisingly, MNP announcements have been accompanied with consumer-wooing efforts by mobile operators.
When the first MNP schedule was announced last year, India’s largest mobile operator Airtel said it was offering plans with roaming rates slashed by as much as 60 percent. And in the very next week, Tata Teleservices came up with a one-paisa-per-second plan for roaming as well.
This time around, close on the heels of an MNP kick-off, 3G announcements and rollouts are pouring in. From a subscriber-orientated approach, this makes sense. Logically, operators who enjoy a general reputation for good network coverage and quality in a given telecom circle and now have 3G to offer, stand to reap measureable benefits from MNP.
More specifically, 3G operators can expect that subscribers with any substantial value-added services (VAS) usage will polarise onto their networks for richer quality-of-experience needs, as MNP lets subscribers switch operators without losing their existing mobile numbers. This can lead to a scenario where subscribers with higher data usage will switch to 3G operators while voice-heavy subscribers will more likely stick with their existing service providers.
Interestingly, since no pan-India 3G licenses exist, an operator with a creamy layer of subscribers in one circle may have to bear with a churn of its higher-value subscribers to another [3G] operator in another circle.
It is notable that (excluding BSNL) neither of the operators with the maximum 13 3G licenses–Airtel, Reliance or Aircel–has got a 3G license for Haryana, where MNP is first being rolled out. The 3G licensees in the circle are Vodafone, Tata Tele and Idea Cellular. It will be worth watching if these operators are able to leverage 3G to woo subscribers to their networks, with MNP duly facilitating the migrations.
MNP dates for the rest of India are not yet firmed up, so telecom stakeholders will be keenly observing MNP implementation in Haryana as a pilot, learning from which can be used in the course of MNP rollouts in other telecom circles. (In Karnataka, for example, Airtel, Tata Tele and Aircel have got the 3G licenses…)
Among other things, consumers can also use MNP to have a common operator among family members, friends or colleagues. This can lead to benefits such as free or unlimited calls to select numbers in a closed user group, depending on the tariff plan and the operator.
MNP is also supposed to drive operators to improve their network and service quality, for roaming and 3G services as well. However, fragmented 3G licences mean that consumers cannot ask for a pan-India consistency in 3G service quality. A market consolidation will be needed to make that happen.
(An update on the version published in Deccan Chronicle on November 25, 2010.)
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