The much-awaited number portability has finally become a reality. The service was inaugurated on Thursday at Rohtak in Haryana for the entire state circle and will be extended to the rest of the country in a phased manner.

What is number portability?

The department of telecommunications (DoT) defines mobile number portability (MNP) as a facility that will allow a subscriber to retain his cellphone number when he moves from one access or service provider to another, irrespective of the mobile technology, or from one cellular mobile technology to another of the same service provider. That means if you change your service provider due to an unsatisfactory experience, or switch from GSM to CDMA, you don’t have to worry about circulating your new phone number among your friends and other contacts. You will get the option of retaining your original number through MNP.

What can be ported?

Apart from regular SIM cards, MNP would also be available on SIM cards purchased to be used as Internet data cards. However, numbers can be ported only within the same service areas as licences are issued to operators for specific circles.

If you are a prepaid subscriber, any balance amount left on your card will not be carried forward when the number is transferred to the new service provider.

How to port?

Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint

Once you have the UPC, go to the new service provider you choose. You will have to do all your know your customer formalities, such as submission of identity and address proof documents. You will then have to fill out the prescribed application form of the new service provider, wherein you mention the UPC sent to you and your phone number. You need to finish this process before the expiry date mentioned along with the code.

At this stage, the process shifts to the operators. The new operator goes to the mobile portability clearing house with the UPC and the phone number. The clearing house will forward the number to your original service provider to check if it can be ported (see graph). Once cleared, the number comes back to the clearing house, which fixes a date and time for the number to be ported and informs both service providers. The clearing house sends a deactivation request to the original provider and an activation request to the new one.

No service period: After this process is completed, the new operator will SMS you a date and time when the no service period will start.

The no service period is the time taken between deactivation by the original provider and activation by the new one.

The no service period will last for about 2 hours and during this time you will not be able to avail any services from either of the two operators. In other words, your number will be inactive during this period. Typically, this period will be between midnight and 5 am to cause you the least inconvenience.

DoT has prescribed seven days for the operators to complete the entire porting process.

Costs: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has fixed a ceiling of 19 as porting charges that the new service provider may collect from the subscriber. The money will go to the clearing house for facilitating the service.

Possible roadblocks

Though industry sources say that the launch is scheduled for some time in December, it is likely to be pushed further. Since the holiday season will start just then, operators may not be able to handle the volumes along with the change.

Also, the turnaround time for each activation and deactivation is a little unrealistic. Romal Shetty, executive director and head telecom practice at audit and consulting firm KPMG India, cites an example, “In Malaysia, the regulator could not ensure the portability in the stipulated time. So it was not very successful. Instead of waiting infinitely for the number to be ported, people would prefer to buy a new number."

Besides, the pan-India launch will cover almost 22 circles with around 10 providers in each circle. Nowhere in the world has the system been launched on a scale involving so many companies. Most countries have just one circle with five to six providers. “Managing the volumes and the scale on which the system will have to go live will not be simple. China is one of the few countries to have implemented it across circles, but then they have just two operators," says Shetty.

What it means for you?

To the consumer, MNP definitely means freedom and choice.

Freedom: Says Shetty, “In India, we see that a lot of people are attached to their cellphone numbers, especially if they have used it for six-seven years and hence are reluctant to opt for a new operator despite unsatisfactory services. The fact that they will have to inform every one of a number change is probably too much."

This is evident from the fact that India is the only country in the world where dual SIM cellphones are sold like hot cakes. Says Kumar Ramanathan, chief marketing officer, Vodafone Essar, a telephone service provider, “Market penetration for the telecom sector is about 55%. All those who can and want to have a cellphone have one. So the market today is for the second and third SIM card. India is the only country in the world where dual SIM phones sell."

Better services: Soon you may find improved customer services in terms of handling requests, better network connectivity leading to better coverage, less congestion, few call drops and more innovative value-added services to attract users. Shetty says, “Now operators will focus on factors such as customer service, retention and loyalty."

Kumar adds, “We will seek to improve the customer experience by focusing on improving the network, customer service and branding."

Don’t expect lower tariffs: MNP is unlikely to trigger a tariff war. “The choice that MNP will offer consumers will cause the operators to start competing with each other to increase the level of satisfaction of the consumers. However, this is unlikely to trigger a tariff war," says Kamlesh Bhatia, principal research analyst, Gartner Inc., a research and consulting firm.

Shauvik Ghosh contributed to this story