In June, the Eastern Caribbean States witnessed a quiet revolution: the introduction of mobile number portability (“MNP”).
Number portability refers to the ability of a telephone network subscriber to retain use of their telephone number after switching networks. MNP is the cellular telephone-specific implementation of this concept.
MNP is revolutionary to the degree that it potentially opens up a significant degree of consumer choice for mobile subscribers in the EC. The availability of MNP means that a consumer who has maintained a long, valuable association with a particular telephone number, no longer has to be tethered to their mobile service provider in the face of either poor service from that provider or, a better deal from a competitor. The implementation of strategies like MNP by regulators ensure greater choice and, by extension, more competition among mobile service providers for a much more liberated customer-base.
The EC’s implementation of MNP is not without precedent in the Caribbean. Similar developments took place in Cayman in 2012, Jamaica, in 2015 and Trinidad in 2016.
- The implementation of MNP will be island-specific: a Lime mobile subscriber in Grenada will not be able to port his number to Digicel’s network in Saint Lucia, for example.
- The implementation is mobile-specific and so land line subscribers cannot benefit. ECTEL has indicated that fixed-line telephone porting will be allowed in the future when there is competition for this service.
- There will be no cost to the mobile subscribers for porting. It is, however, possible that subscribers will have to cover the cost of unlocking phones for use on another network.
- Both post and pre-paid customers in the EC will have access to MNP. Post-paid customers will have to settle their bills as a pre-cursor to switching networks.
- Mobile subscribers will be able to request a reversal of the number porting within 14 days of the switch. Once this 14-day window has expired, subscribers will not be able to request a further switch for another 46 days.
Implementing number portability is a signal acknowledgment of the importance of a more consumer-centric regulatory framework. It may be seen as a move towards further enabling the ‘invisible hand’ of market forces to work in the various EC jurisdictions. Taken to its logical conclusion, this should result in greater competition among the different telecos operating in that region. Given the relatively small size of the EC markets, however, its left to be seen whether MNP’s impact will be more than negligible.