Mobile Number Portability: Has it flopped?

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Ten days since the official start of Mobile Number Portability in Kenya, the industry is eerily silent on its progress so far. We expected an avalanche of subscribers porting their numbers to rival networks. I’m not sure it happened and if it will happen in future.
Whereas the local media is seeking information on how many people have ported across networks so far, they keep on getting tossed round from operators to CCK to the porting company and back again without concrete answers on how many people have successfully ported across. However, sources claim that less than 1,000 people have applied for porting.

The problem lies in information. People are not well informed on how to port across and what this porting business is all about. The concept of MNP is simply not well understood by consumers.

I happen to ask people I consider fairly educated on what MNP is and the answers I got from them surprised me due to their inaccuracy. They all had some basic grasp of what it entails and that was it. Some thought they would maintain their previous SIM cards when they port, some said they fear porting because they will lose their SIM contacts, some said MNP will cost them 200/- for cross network calls etc. However, the shocker was when I talked to some people from my village who had no clue whatsoever about MNP. They even declared me a liar for claiming that they can have a 0722 number on Airtel or YU or a 0733 number on Safaricom or Orange.

In addition to the above, I have noted that there is an increased search for information on MNP on the web that hits my blog. This increased search includes such terms as below which I extracted from my blog search stats:

can i shift from safaricom to airtel without changing sim card
airtel mnp number
line portability-safaricom
mnp process airtel
network architecture of mnp in india
questions of portability number
how to port my number from safaricom to airtel
questions on mobile number portability
mobile number directory
how many people port to a different network on average per year mnp
portabilty safaricom zain airtel
mobile line transfer across safaricom
How to move my number from airtel

This just goes to show that the public is not well informed about the MNP concept and they lack information to enable them take advantage of MNP. The fact that people who can surf the web and do a search are asking about MNP process means that there are millions of subscribers who have not even heard of MNP.

My thinking is it’s the poor population with no Internet and newspaper access who are price sensitive and would port their lines to the cheapest network. I therefore expected the mobile operators to target these people through local vernacular radio stations, posters and road shows and not newspaper and TV adverts as is the case now. The increase in number of searches on the web on MNP means that even people who have access to Internet, newspapers ( and therefore fairly well informed) are not well informed about MNP. It’s no surprise that my village mates have never heard of MNP. Infact if you noticed, CCK started the MNP adverts on TV and the print media two days before MNP kickoff.
Airtel seems to be the only operator keen on educating the consumer on what MNP is all about and the benefits it offers.

News coming out of India where MNP was recently introduced shows that MNP has failed to live up the hype that preceded its launch. Out of a subscriber base of over 791 Million, only 1.7 Million had applied for porting in the first 15 days. That represents a 0.2 % uptake of MNP in India. The slow uptake and problems faced by subscribers who have ported made it flop.
The few customers who have ported in Kenya are complaining of inability to call or be called by subscribers on the network they migrated from, this is indicative of sabotage by operators just as I had predicted in a previous post here.

I also believe that price is no longer the main motivator for porting, the cross network and on network charges are nearly the same on the various providers networks and the 200/- porting fee is actually worth about 200 minutes (3.3 Hours!) worth of airtime. The operators should now focus on VAS as the motivating factor to move across networks as opposed to price.

The final issue is the porting process is too complex for the average Kenyan. Operators should have come up with a simpler way of porting and shift the operational aspect of porting to the recipient network because right now the porting process is split between the end-user and recipient network. Also the porting period of 48hrs is too long for a subscriber base such as ours, The period should be reduced to the globally accepted 2 Hrs (In Australia, it takes 3 minutes to port across networks, its even shorter in New Zealand).

So once again, a noble concept has failed due to failure to sufficiently educate the consumer before hand and making business decisions on the false belief that consumers are raring to port across networks because it successfully happened elsewhere before. The Kenyan mobile consumer is a peculiar one indeed!


  1. Hi Tom,

    Nice penning. In my view the flop has over and above the lack of information, the motivation behind the idea has also been twisted thus the flop. MNP is an idea mooted by one of the competitors whose numbers didn’t seem to be growing, while realy they had no pull factor in their product offering and innocation was zero to nil.
    The telecommunication industry is very fast and this speed is propelled by relevance of innocation to everday life. The Telco that survives will hinge its success on responsive innovation. Period

  2. Hi Tom.

    I agree with all. Additionally, l think the multi-SIM environment didnt help matters. MNP would have been effective way back. Looking at all the investment made in this venture, l keep wondering if the regulator did a cost-effect analysis before pushing the industry in this direction.

  3. Nikuhama is a joke. There’s no way in hell people r gonna give up their mpesa and high speed internet, especially mpesa. In fact I see airtel losing coz u need mpesa upende usipende.

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