New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) The mandatory scheme that requires telecom operators to allow customers to switch operators without giving up their numbers — called mobile number portability — has had a positive impact with operators vying with one another to improve their service and retain customers.
Take Rahul Sharma, a 23-year-old student of the University of Delhi. He had planned to switch his telecom operator following network problems but gave his existing operator one last chance. Today the problem is rectified with a host of freebies and discounts.
“Mobile number portability has been of huge advantage to me,” Sharma told IANS. “What I could not get done in the past three years has been set right immediately after I told my mobile phone operator that I plan to switch over.”
This is one of the reasons why analysts say the number of people who have “ported” — an industry jargon for those who have opted to switch providers while retaining their phone numbers — is just 3.8 million since the pan-India scheme started Jan 20.
This is not a big number considering some 771 million mobile phone connections in India.
“After the scheme, operators went on to improve their services in a huge way,” said S.C. Khanna, secretary general of the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (Auspi), a industry lobby, speaking about the reason for poor porting numbers.
“By also offering attractive freebies and discounts to retain and attract customers, the customers have certainly gained in huge terms,” Khanna told IANS, also explaining as to why the major campaigns by companies like Idea and Vodafone did not actually work.
The state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd offered new pre-paid customers free talk time worth Rs.100 and post-paid customers got 50 percent rebate on their first bill. Bharti Airtel also launched its surprise campaign with free talk time, special rates and free SMS.
Though Idea Cellular did not announce any specific plan, it made its presence felt with round the clock with the catchy “No Idea, Get Idea!” campaign, which tried to show its superior service vis-a-vis others on issues such as call drop, customer care and inflated billing.
Even though the market watchdog declined to give specific figure on which company gained or lost on the portability scheme, sources said Vodafone and Idea Cellular were the biggest gainers, while the state-owned BSNL lost the most subscribers.
According to Rajan S. Mathew, director of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), even internationally, the number portability scheme has not managed to attract more than 7-8 percent of the subscribers.
“In India it is even less because 90 percent of the subscribers have pre-paid service. They are majorly attracted by low tariff plans. So with the launch of this new scheme, operators offered attractive tariffs to retain customers,” Mathew told IANS.
Romal Shetty, executive director of global consultancy KPMG, had a different take on the issue and predicted that the situation will be no different in the future as well when it comes to portability.
“People change their operators to get better service or tariff plan. In India, by and large, no operator is far superior than another. After this scheme they are also more alert with competitive plans to retain and attract new customers,” Shetty told IANS.
“The biggest challenge is to retain high-value customers while attracting new ones.”