South Africa launched number portability in 2006 with the ability of mobile users to port their telephone numbers between cellular networks.
This facility aimed at boosting competition within the country’s historically-uncompetitive telecoms sector has been wildly-successful with more than eight million people choosing to change their mobile network operator without losing their mobile number. In addition, over one million geographic numbers have been ported.
Unfortunately, and after 13 years, it is still not possible to port non-geographic numbers with such prefixes as 0800 and 0860 because one operator with the lion’s share of call centre business that makes use of these valuable, heavily-advertised phone numbers continues to delay non-geographic number portability, said Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) chair, Graham Beneke.
“When it comes to the introduction of non-geographic number portability, Telkom has sadly reverted to its ‘bad old days’ persona after a promising start to the new millennium,” said Beneke.
“During recent public hearings into non-geographic number portability, Telkom’s industry peers and others had to suffer long-winded explanations from the former monopoly as to why it could not swiftly introduce non-geographic number portability. It can, and we all know it.”
Beneke said that Telkom has sought to over-complicate the issue as the operator would lose out competitively if the large corporates and contact centres that are the primary users of 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087 prefixes were able to switch networks while retaining these numbers.
Numbers that are easy for consumers to recall (eg: 0861 123 321) and which have been heavily-advertised at tremendous cost are especially contentious.
“No call centre that has invested significantly in its main inbound phone number is going to switch network operators without being able to retain this number so heavily-linked to its brand,” said Beneke.
“The SA telecoms industry needs to be able to port all numbers. This is the final competitive number portability issue that’s sticking out like a sore thumb because a single operator is stalling the inevitable.”