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India Orders Mobile Number Portability

India's telecommunications regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has ordered mobile operators across the country to implement mobile number portability (MNP) starting Thursday, after a delay of about a year.

MNP will enable customers to retain their mobile numbers if they change operators, regardless of the mobile technology they use. Indian mobile operators use CDMA (code division multiple access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), with some mobile operators in various stages of introducing 3G services.

The introduction of MNP was postponed thrice, as operators were not ready with the infrastructure to offer the services.

The MNP service was rolled out in Haryana state in north India in November, with plans to have the country-wide rollout early this year.

MNP is expected to increase competition in the mobile telephony market in India as customers will have the choice to shift operators if they are not happy with the quality of service or the tariff, without having to give up their mobile numbers. Indian operators are locked in a price war that has pushed down their margins.

Mobile operators, including large incumbents, have been advertising the MNP service, hoping to get customers from other operators.

But except for an initial surge in customers shifting operators, MNP is not expected to lead to significant customer churn in the medium and long term, said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner.

There may be some pent-up demand initially from customers wanting to take advantage of lower tariffs offered by some operators, but in the long term, operators will be offering similar tariffs for their services, Bhatia said. The quality of service is currently not a very important differentiator among operators to make customers change their providers, he added.

India had 707 million mobile subscribers at the end of October last year, according to TRAI.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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