New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has said rejection of porting requests by telecom operators creates “dissatisfaction and frustration” among subscribers and has suggested a mechanism to resolve this, indicating its desire to cast its lot in favour of boosting customer satisfaction.
TRAI issued draft guidelines on Wednesday for MNP amendments and invited comments by stakeholders till August 31. Mobile Number Portability (MNP) is a facility that allows a mobile user to keep the same mobile number while switching between operators. Full MNP – the ability to retain one’s number while switching to any operator in any mobile circle in the country - was implemented from July 2015.
Customers wanting to port or transfer their number to other operators can do so by first sending a text message with the word "PORT" followed by their mobile number to 1900. Upon sending this message, they receive a Unique Porting Code (UPC) with a validity of 15 days from their current operator. This code has to be filled in an application form at the operator whose service they want their connection to be switched to, along with the required identity proof. The new service provider will issue a new SIM on which the old number will be activated.
However, Trai's draft report hints that operators are usually reluctant to let their customers port out and seek to delay it by every method possible.
“The Authority periodically monitors the reports submitted by Mobile Number Portability Service Providers (MNPSPs) to study the pattern of rejection of porting requests by the Donor Operator. Rejections on the grounds of “UPC Mismatch” and “UPC expired” constituted about 40% of the total rejections. This may be due to wrong submission of UPC content by the potential subscriber," the report said.
What this means is that the operator which receives the porting out request delays sending the UPC so that by the time the customer submits it to his/her favoured network operator, the code has almost expired. Further, since the code is not shared between the network operators there is no way for the favoured operator to verify what the code is.
The mechanism suggested to solve this is to create a clearing house to share the code. Once the UPC is generated it is sent to the customer and the clearing house, which shares it with the second operator.
The TRAI paper notes: "This will result in reduction of rejection of porting requests and will increase subscriber satisfaction. The draft amendment also propose to make provision to transmit the relevant information viz. date of the bill, amount outstanding, last date of payment, date of the notice and period of notice given to the subscriber by Donor Operator through the MNP Clearing House.”
TRAI’s observations betray a desire on its part to increase customer satisfaction. The main reason for introducing full MNP in India was to allow customers to switch operators without letting go of their old numbers., Moving to a new number involves a lot of logistical difficulties which customers may not have thought was worth it.
In June 2017, 5.88 million subscribers submitted requests for MNP, according to TRAI data. Jio, owned by Reliance Industies Ltd and the newest player in the mobile market, added more than six million subscribers, mostly from operators like Telenor, Aircel, Sistema and Tata Teleservices, taking its market share to over 10%.
Meanwhile, TRAI is also expected to make a recommendation soon on interconnect user charges (IUC). The Times of India newspaper reported that the regulator may cut IUC, the fee which mobile operators charge each other for connecting calls between networks.
The interconnect charge currently is 14 paise per minute and the TRAI wants to cut it to under 10 p/m, ToI reported citing sources. Mobile operators are split on this proposal, especially the older incumbents since they benefit disproportionately from IUC. Some of them even want IUC to be raised, which could end up increasing mobile tariffs.
Airtel, Idea and Vodafone for instance have opposed a reduction in IUC. Instead, they want it raised from 14 to 35 paise per minute. Their position is that the current rate is below their cost of carrying. Newer players in the mobile market on the other hand want Trai to switch to a system called Bill and Keep, in line with commitment the regulator itself made to the Supreme Court in 2011.
In its submission to the apex court then, Trai had said that hardly any additional costs are borne by an operator for receiving calls on an existing network.
(Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd)