Indian mobile phone users will be able to retain their mobile numbers even if they switch service providers from Dec. 31, according to the country's Ministry of Communications & IT.
The new Mobile Number Portability (MNP) facility will be rolled out by then in the nation's four largest cities and some other service areas, with subscribers in other parts of the country getting the facility by March 20, the government said on Wednesday.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the country's telecom regulator, on Wednesday separately issued regulations for mobile number portability.
Introduction of the MNP will help increase competition between service providers and act as a catalyst for them to improve their quality of service, the TRAI said.
The MNP option will, however, not lead to a dramatic shift by subscribers from one operator to another, as quality of service and network coverage are not significant differentiators in the Indian market, said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner.
The introduction of number portability in other countries did not lead to a significant shift by subscribers from one operator to another, and in India too there will be an initial churn of up to 20 percent of subscribers, which will then taper off, Bhatia said. Customers are more likely to shift if they are already sitting on the fence or if another operator introduces an aggressive tariff plan, he added.
In the long term, mobile-service operators will start focusing more on customer service, with service plans targeted at specific categories of subscribers, he added.
Number portability is also likely to help new entrants into the Indian mobile-services market, such as the Indian joint ventures of Telenor and Etisalat.
Under the guidelines proposed by the TRAI, mobile users will be allowed to use the same mobile number when they move to other service providers, even if these providers use different mobile technologies.
In India, the majority of subscribers are on networks using GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), with the rest using CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology.
Some operators offering CDMA, like Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices, started offering GSM services this year as well. The TRAI has ruled that subscribers should be allowed to retain their mobile numbers even if they are switching between the GSM and CDMA networks run by the same operator.
Requests for portability of mobile numbers to another network will, however, only be allowed if the user has been a subscriber of a network for at least 90 days, according to TRAI. The facility of number portability will also be limited to a specific service area.
The move to introduce the MNP comes as the country's mobile subscriber base is expanding fast, sometimes having an impact on network quality.
India added 15.08 million mobile subscribers in August, taking the total number of subscribers to 457 million. The country added 14.38 million subscribers in July.