Assessing The Effects of Mobile Number Portability on Network Services In Nigeria in 2013

In a bid to deepen competition and force telecom service providers to provide better services to their customers, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) began the Mobile Number Portability service (MNP), to assure freedom for telecom subscribers. After much preparation towards the process, April 1, 2013 saw the commencement of the MNP process, guaranteeing Nigerian subscribers a right to their number.
Mobile Number Portability allows telecom subscribers to migrate from one network service provider to another, and still retain their mobile phone number. It invariably guarantees freedom among subscribers to move from one operator, who has not met their service expectations, to another who they feel can, without losing their number. According to the Executive Vice Chairman NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, and other telecom industry experts, the MNP was introduced into the telecoms sector to create healthy competition among the operators.
However, since its launch in April 2013, the Nigerian telecom industry has made sluggish progress, considered unimpressive, notwithstanding the challenges that come with service provision in the country. Nevertheless, the effects o the MNP initiative on telecom services and usage in Nigeria ranges from high competition to no guarantee on the Quality o Service (QoS).
According to NCC statistics, two months after the introduction of MNP in Nigeria, 13,923 subscribers ported in the months of May and June. The statistics further showed that in May, 7,164 subscribers ported, before dropping to 5,759 by June.
Many have blamed the slow porting process on the multiple SIM culture among many Nigerians, notwithstanding the popular belief many bore that all networks are the same.
But still, opinions vary on the likely impact or effect of our adoption of the MNP initiative, which has is been used by six other countries, on the sectors dynamics, most notably the network competition, Quality of Service and the benefits to subscribers.
As said above, one effect of the MNP initiative is that it may lead to high competition; however its impact on the QoS would largely depend on the capacity of the telecom companies to make the required investments in technology and network expansion. This is needed for the networks to withstand any explosion in subscriber or user base.
Competition among telecom network providers heightened following the launch of the MNP in April 2013. The height of this could be seen in the move by MTN to “port” an actor popularly called Saka, who formerly featured in commercials for rival network, Etisalat, to their own network.
In addition to the above, other ways one could measure the high competition among the telecom firms could be seen in the introduction of the “Premium Club” by MTN, which was later emulated by Airtel, which the latter named “Premier Club”. Both networks offer lounge and other services via these clubs. Still on competition, within six months of the introduction of the MNP, Globacom developed some survival skills. It introduced or the first time, free 30 megabytes for every N200 Naira recharge, in a package called “GLO Bounce & Slide”. One has little doubt that the MNP did not influence this decision.
However, despite the tight competition, Nigerian telecom subscribers are yet to reap the bountiful benefits of MNP, especially as it concerns Quality of Service. Many believe that this is maybe caused by complacency on the part of the network providers. The height o this is vividly captured by “An Open Letter to the President” from the Advocate or Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative (ASRADI), a civil society organization, published on the Punch Newspaper (on Monday, November 25, 2013). The letter highlighted the present-day activities o telecom firms, capturing some very provoking but key aspects. According to the group, “As far as telephony is concerned, all quality of service (QoS) indications such as service response time, loss, signal-to-noise ratio, cross-talk, echo, interrupts, frequency response, loudness levels and so on, are abysmal across all the four major networks… Despite the MNP, it is not uncommon to get a network response that a number being called is switched off or unavailable, even If both subscribers (the caller and the phone being called) are in the same location and switched on.” Hence it is clear from the foregoing that the MNP has not led to any improvement in the Quality of Services rendered by telecom providers.
Also, poor customer service delivery, by telecom service providers, has not yet being championed by the adoption of MNP by Nigeria. As said in the ASRADI open letter, GLO has two customer care numbers on its prepaid platform. However, anyone who calls the toll-free 121 must be ready to listen to listen to music and advertisement for as long as they remain on the phone, but get to speak with a customer care assistant they will not. “The only way prepaid users get to speak with a customer care agent is to call GLO’s tolled number 171 at N20/call.” And other networks are no better. Hence, if a user decides to port, based on the points expressed above, the user will still not get any better offer. But it gets worse…
It may appear that complacency is the game of the telecom firms as they have “constantly molested” subscribers with unsolicited phone calls and intrusive messages, despite the MNP exercise still being implemented.
One would have expected the MNP to bring more benefits to the Nigerian telecom subscriber base. However, as mentioned above, complacency has taken a toll on the telecom providers. A clear indication of this is the Nigerian demand for a more reasonably Android data plan. The growing popularity of the Android platform, a Smartphone operating system, and other Smartphone platforms, in addition to the MNP exercise ought to have prompted telecom service providers to have rolled out a reasonable data plan for these platforms. However, no network provider has made that bold step, hence all Smartphone users (in their millions) are forced to remain with the unreasonable data plan these network providers have put on the table.
Despite the poor Quality of Service, the MNP has given to the Nigerian telecom subscriber base some benefits, both in the short-term and in the long-run. In the short-term, Nigerian telecom subscribers can drop a network provider for another anytime they feel the need for it. Unfortunately, the 90 days restriction on being able to port after the last port is a major drawback. The NCC should try to reduce the limit, from say 90 days to 30 days, if the commission is to make porting more convenient for telecom subscribers. In 2013 alone, telecom service providers proposed $6.95bn investment in their networks, according to the Punch. This is impressive and very much needed to improve the Quality of Service of telecom service in the long-run.

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