With mobile number portability now entrenched in the South African telecoms market, the time has come for the introduction of the same flexibility in the fixed line arena. That is according to Jacques du Toit, managing director of Orion Telecom, who says the introduction of fixed line number portability is long overdue.
Du Toit adds that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) needs to step up the pressure. “Government and ICASA should prioritise the rollout of fixed line number portability as it is in line with the set strategy to reduce call costs and up service levels,” he says.
“If the ongoing liberalisation of our telecoms sector is to become a reality, fixed line number portability is crucial, particularly with Neotel waiting in the wings,” Du Toit adds. “It would be excellent for competition, and would result in better pricing, services and packages, and greater flexibility for the customer.”
Fixed line number portability means that the subscriber, an individual or organisation, can retain the same telephone number range while switching from one provider to another. . Consumers and businesses benefit from number portability because it eliminates the need for them to inform their contacts of a change of phone numbers when they switch service providers. This does away with switching costs and the possibility of lost business opportunities. It also increases competition as service providers need to actively compete and innovate to retain and grow their customer base.
It has the immediate effect of increasing competition by removing number barriers and making it easier for customers to move to an alternate service. Portability also forces operators to enhance customer-retention and acquisition strategies and to also devise pricing structures that will attract customers. It opens up the opportunity for telephony providers to be innovative by offering customers a 'total solution' – landline, mobile and broadband with the same provider.
Portability also removes many of the existing barriers to swapping providers like the need to re-print business cards or change signage and advertising. “Most importantly, a telephone number is really an identity,” says Du Toit. “At the moment, people are forced to remain with Telkom because if they move to another network, they will lose their number. We believe that it is the consumer’s right to have the freedom to move while maintaining their identity. Icasa needs to push for fixed line number portability in the same way that it did for mobile number portability.”
“The fact is that the telecoms sector has undergone rapid technological and market development in this country,” says Du Toit. “Internet and other IP-based communications services are increasingly being used as alternatives to circuit-switched telephone services. With these developments taking place, the time is right for the stimulation of further competition.”