On 24 November 2017, ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) released new draft regulations on Number Portability. These proposed regulations aim to achieve effective and efficient functionality when porting numbers from one provider to the next; effective access and routing of communication regardless of the number being ported, and the licensees having to address cost allocation and cost recovery when porting numbers.
Number Portability is the transfer of geographic numbers, non-geographic numbers (with prefixes 086, 080 and 087) as well as mobile numbers from one operator to another.
Mobile and geographic number portability have had a major impact on the consumer. Currently, non-geographic number portability is not available. A large number of businesses and consumers have almost been forced to stay with their existing provider if they wish to retain their 080, 087 or 086 number. But with these new regulations, this may finally be coming to an end.
ICASA stated that “Number Portability has benefits for consumers in that it promotes customer choice, encourages competition and has a potential to improve quality of service by network operators.
A large proportion of businesses in South Africa have ‘golden numbers’. A golden number usually begins with 0800. They are easy to remember and can spell out the company’s name or service offering. Many businesses stay with their current providers just to keep their golden numbers due to the potential damage changing the number could do to their brand. The cost of forwarding calls from these golden numbers to a new provider can run into the thousands and often doesn’t make financial sense.
Even if they were to change, the indirect costs faced by businesses can be extremely high. Issuing new business cards, brochures, updating social media with new contact numbers, as well as potential downtime can cost a lot of money. In some cases, it can also be an administrative nightmare!
Cost transparency is the main reason for customers wanting to change providers. While price is still the most important factor, the 2016 Acquisition and Retention study conducted by Nokia (https://pages.nokia.com/AR-Study-Series.html) revealed that transparency in contract plans and rate structures were also compelling reasons for customers to change service providers. According to the study, these are the four main reasons why customers are likely to change providers, in the following order:
- Cost and billing transparency
- Network quality
- Customer care
- Service and device portfolio
The draft document clearly aims to place the power in the hands of the consumer, which is great to see. And as the Switch Telecom team, we’d like to say, “Well done ICASA!”
Customers will no longer be compelled to stay with the same operator to keep their same number, and service providers will have to up their game when it comes to delivering customer service. We believe this will level the playing field for all service providers. Business and consumers will soon have complete freedom of choice when renewing the fixed-line contracts. Their decision to stay or go will depend on the four factors mentioned above – not on whether their existing numbers can be ported.
The competition is on, so let’s sit back and watch which service providers will rise to the challenge!