What if you are not happy with the services provided by your mobile service operator? You visit the office of another service provider you want to switch to. You fulfil the required criteria and you get a new SIM card. But there is a problem; you get a new number. Now the trouble starts. You need to inform everyone in your circle that you have a new number.

But imagine this: you retain your number despite changing the service provider. You are spared of the trouble of informing your friends and colleagues about the new number.

The technology that allows a user to have the same number even after changing the service provider is called Mobile Number Portability (MNP). The option is going to be available in Nepal very soon.

The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) has prepared a draft of Mobile Number Portability Regulation 2021 and once this comes into force, users can change service providers while retaining their own numbers.

“The authority is all set to introduce the provision so that customers can switch to other service providers without changing their mobile numbers,” said Min Prasad Aryal, director of the authority.

The concept behind Mobile Number Portability is putting the customers’ satisfaction at front and centre.

Singapore was the first country to launch MNP in 1997. India launched nationwide mobile number portability in January 2011.

According to Ambar Sthapit, director of the authority, when it becomes easy to switch service providers, it will also create a healthy competition among telecom companies.

“It will force the service providers to offer better services to ensure customer loyalty, which will ultimately lead to quality improvement,” Sthapit told the Post.

Yet another benefit of the MNP is customers can switch to another service provider when they are in certain areas where there is no network of the provider they are using.

To enable MNP, an authorised central clearing house called Number Portability Clearing (NPC) House will be established.

Aryal said that an operation modality, however, is yet to be fixed.

“It is also yet to be determined whether the clearing house will operate under the NTA or function independently as per the NTA’s directives,” said Aryal.

Currently, there are three telecom service providers in the country.

As of mid-September, the total number of GSM mobile service users in the country stands at 39.67 million. Of them, 20.82 million are Nepal Telecom service users, 16.48 million are Ncell users and 2.35 million are Smart Telecom users, according to a management information report published by the authority.

According to the draft, for the porting process, customers should file an application at the service provider’s office, which will then process the documents.

A customer who has already used the number for at least 90 days can apply for porting service. The customer needs to have their mobile number registered in the SIM database of service providers that they have been using and the customer identification needs to match the database of the service provider, as per the draft.

For mobile number porting, the customer should not have any liability with the service provider they have been using and the mobile number should not have been blocked or halted during the time when request for porting is made.

According to the draft, the customer needs to fill a form requesting the porting of their number and submit it with an identity card. The customer should self-declare that the mobile number is authorised and is not stolen or used for wrong purposes.

Unless the porting process gets completed, the service seekers will be using their existing service provider.

There, however, are some demerits of porting.

If someone changes the service provider while retaining the same number under the MNP option, his or her friends and colleagues may not know which operator belongs to the person they are making a call to. And an unnecessary additional charge may apply.

As the tariff rates of inter-operators are different, most of the customers have been using two SIM cards of two different networks to make calls accordingly so that call cost does not go high.

Currently, Nepal Telecom has been charging Rs1.5 per minute on voice call inside its network and Rs2 per minute while making calls to other networks in GSM prepaid tariff while it has been charging Rs1 on SMS inside the Nepal Telecom network and Rs1.25 while sending messages to other operators. These charges are exclusive of taxes.

Ncell has been charging Rs1.99 while making voice calls within its network and other networks and Rs1 on SMS within its network and Rs1.27 while sending messages to other telecom networks.

“As there is a difference in voice-call tariffs among service providers, this provision might help bring uniformity in charges,” said Sthapit. “The draft is in the preliminary phase and the authority is seeking feedback and suggestions.”

It’s not clear yet though when the MNP option will be available for customers.

An official at the NTA said it could take at least six months, as after the draft is approved, work needs to be done with regards to infrastructure development.

Rajesh Joshi, spokesperson for Nepal Telecom, said that service providers need to make investments to introduce MNP.

“Since I have not seen the guidelines yet, I cannot make any comments right now. But there should be clarity on what benefits the MNP brings to service providers,” said Joshi. “Service providers must strive for bettering services, but they also need to be in tariff competition. We need to look at our technical capacity and commercial viability.”