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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Switching to Operators Not So Easy despite MNP buZZ

Mobile number portability got off to a rocky start as customers complained they were unable to swap service providers and telcos accused rivals unfairly hanging on to top clients. Customers queuing up to switch operators without a change in cellphone numbers were told “servers were down” or there were technical glitches that prevented quick action on their request to desert their existing service provider.

Airtel customer SK Ghosh has been sending a text message for two days only to get a terse reply: “invalid entry”. ET spoke to a cross-section of customers across the country. All of them faced similar hurdles. The response from another service provider for subscriber in West Bengal was “no default configured”.

Vodafone Essar , which runs a countrywide network, said customer helplines were awash with complaints from angry subscribers of rival networks complaining their requests to make a switch fell on deaf ears. The telco plans to take up the issue with sector regulator Trai.

“We are getting complaints from customers who want to port in to us that they are not getting the unique porting codes from their existing service providers or there is a delay in the process. It is not appropriate to name any specific operator,” Samaresh Parida, Vodafone Essar’s director (strategy) told ET.

Reliance Communications , the country’s second largest telco by customers, also said its rivals were not processing requests to switch to the Anil-Ambani promoted company.

“I can confirm that RCom helplines have received umpteen complaints from (customers of rival networks) that their SMS requests were not being accepted by their present service providers. Most complaints emanated from Vodafone, Airtel and some Idea Cellular customers in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka who been wanting to port into RCom,” said RCom’s president (marketing) for wireless business, Mahesh Prasad.

The CEO of Bharti Airtel , India’s largest telco by both customers and revenues, Sanjay Kapoor, said his company was not blocking customers’ request to switch to rivals. “There may be some technical issues, but we should not jump to conclusions, and allow the system to stablise,” he said.

Kapoor said Airtel would gain the most by the introduction of MNP. “Our revenue market share is far higher than our customer market share, an indicator of the quality of our subscribers. We have a credible track record for services and an enviable reach in terms of our networks and MNP will therefore enable us to get more customers,” he said.

He said eventually, a customer would be able to make a switch. “If a subscriber does not get a response, he will resend the SMS. It is not possible for any telco to block the process,” Kapoor added. According to Rajan Mathews, director general of The Cellular Operators Association of India, the body representing all GSM telcos, technical glitches were bound to crop up in the first weeks especially considering that scale of the project.

“No country with over 700 million cellphone customers and 14 operators has ever attempted such a project. Given the complexity involved, I can categorically state that there is no malicious intent by any operator to stall or delay porting requests. Besides, any telco that has complaints can always approach regulator Trai,” he added. source

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