It’s been almost six months since the March implementation of non-geographic number portability and the process has been overwhelmingly efficient.
Commenting on the new-found ability of corporates, SMEs, NGOs and others with 0800, 086 and 087 phone numbers to be able to move their usually heavily-advertised contact numbers to more innovative providers from early March 2022 without losing those valuable digits, South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) extended its congratulations to the country’s Number Portability Company (NPC).
This custodian of the process involved in enabling businesses and consumers to change telecom providers without losing their phone numbers has successfully ported some 10 929 non-geographic numbers from March to date.
The NPC is jointly owned by MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom and Liquid Intelligent Technologies. It initially came into being as a result of the 2001 Amendments to the Telecommunications Act which mandated ICASA to: “prescribe measures to ensure that number portability shall be introduced in 2005.” Number ports are always facilitated by the NPC.
Prior to the implementation of full number portability earlier this year, South Africa had experienced 16 years of partial implementation of number portability.
Number portability has been a tremendous boost for competition in the telecoms space with the consumer and more agile, customer-focused providers the big winners. Over 13.5 million mobile numbers were ported from November 2006 to January 2022, averaging over 72 000 mobile ports per month. For geographic numbers, the average number of ports per month is over 18 700 for the period April 2010 to January 2022.
Adjectives used by ISPA members to describe the NPC’s overall functioning and implementation of this vital element of free competition include ‘smooth’, ‘slick’ and ‘impressive’.
“Congratulations to the management and staff at the NPC for being a shining beacon of efficiency, excellence and transparency held together by the glue of accountability,” says André van der Walt, ISPA’s Chairperson.
According to Shannon Swanepoel, Managing Director of ISPA member Switch Telecom: “We have been waiting for the regulator to allow for non-geographic number porting for many years and Switch Telecom already had a number of non-geographic ports ready to be logged on the morning of 7 March 2022. We have now successfully ported individual non-geographic numbers as well as blocks of non-geographic numbers for over 100 business clients. These businesses have finally been freed from what was the last remaining vestige of Telkom’s monopoly.”
Rob Lith, Chief Commercial Officer at Telviva, another ISPA member, noted: “Being able to port both geographic and non-geographic numbers has freed customers to move without friction to their provider of choice. This concludes the long-drawn-out process to deliver consumers their rights to retain numbers they have widely advertised and distributed to contacts, suppliers and customers.”
For his part, Clive Fagan, General Manager of the Number Portability Company (Pty) Ltd, said: “This was an exercise some two years in the planning, in which systematic incremental upgrades to our third-party software were done. A testing facility was provided early in the process for operators to prove their ability to use the system and to start systematically loading thousands of numbers into the test system.
“Our goal was to provide a minimum of disruption to the existing number porting process and implement non-geographic number portability as seamlessly as possible without any downtime to the existing operation.
“Our implementation team all knew their roles and performed impeccably to achieve a minor miracle. As it turned out, the actual switchover was achieved in a normal maintenance window over a weekend with no downtime required.”
Mr Fagan noted that the cooperation and testing done by the industry contributed greatly to the smooth switchover.
While the process for porting one or many 0800, 086 or 087 numbers takes longer than the usual 12 to 48 hours, with more steps and variations involved, the NPC has performed admirably and continues to help grease the wheels of free competition in the telecoms market.