Mobile telecoms tiff: Time for MNP

HISTORY, sadly has repeated itself.

By TechnoMag

We saw Econet Wireless switching off Telecel Zimbabwe for exactly 13 days, much to the chagrin of the subscribers who were denied the right to communication.

The termination was without any warning and did not leave any room for Zimbabweans to continue communicating across the two mobile networks.

It was just a battle of the two giants that completely ignored the major reason for their existence, which is the people, the only reason which has made all the mobile operators as successful as they are today.

Unfortunately, this was not happening for the first time ever in Zimbabwe but we haplessly watched a sad part of history repeating itself while the major stakeholders were not consulted, warned or safeguarded.

This has been a warning sign that we all need to task the national regulator, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to quickly and finally nip this problem in the bud.

Previously we debated the justification of Zimbabwe`s largest mobile operator by subscriber base for switching off other players when a disagreement arises. It is not only unfair, but unfortunate, as it gives the impression Econet does not need the other players but all other players need it.

While this may be technically true when we look at the numbers game, it is not true when you bring the same question to the subscribers who need to communicate with their business partners, friends, family and colleagues across the network divide.

For Econet, it is quite interesting that it played regulator in reading the riot act to and sanctioning Telecel.

The last time we checked Econet was only a service provider. That it played regulator while the official regulator played spectator really puts these two in a distasteful position. It paints a completely wrong image without scrutinising the reasons behind this move.

Econet switched off Telecel on July 25, citing that the latter did not have a licence to operate hence it was legally not allowed to interconnect with an unlicensed player.

Econet said: “Clause 5.2.2 of our licence requires us to interconnect only with licensed operators. This paragraph derives from Section 61 of the Act, which allows a licensed operator to interconnect with another licensed operator. Section 2 of the Act defines a licensee as a holder of a valid licence issued in terms of Section 37 of the Act.”

While this is definitely true and makes business sense even to a layman, we really questioned the timing of such a move considering that it was done only at the height of Telecel`s mega and across networks promotion.

Of course Potraz could really do nothing about such a scenario since its own rules were being used in this game. However we wonder if being law abiding can be equally translated to mean law enforcing.

Ironically, before the cut-off, the real reason which was raised as a complaint by Telecel to Potraz was that of throttling. Telecel saw a major decline in call success rates terminating on Econet from 90% dropping to less than 50%.

And coincidentally Econet realised that the company it was interconnected with for 15 years was not legally licensed.
We saw the same thing happening last year when Econet demanded its interconnection fee from NetOne of over US$20 million.

Last year’s case was clearer since the argument was only about interconnection fees. Econet felt it prudent to terminate the service as it kept accruing a big unpaid debt in principal and interest. But did Econet consider the subscribers’ interests? Not at all!

Forced consumerism should be discouraged at all costs. We should not force our friends or partners to be on the same network with us to communicate.

This cannot be the order of the day in this digital age. Someone is sleeping on the job and we call upon Potraz to aggressively address this by introducing Mobile Number Portability (MNP).

The MNP system allows any subscriber to easily change from one network to the other without need to change their phone number.

Of course Potraz is fully aware of this technology which is already being implemented in every other African country. But for reasons best known to Potraz, we do not see this implemented here.

Obviously to the regulator this will cost millions of dollars to implement but, considering what is at stake, Potraz has no option but to implement MNPs as a matter of urgency.

Besides, Potraz has been collecting licence fees plus Universal Service Funds in excess of millions of dollars from mobile operators, internet access providers and internet service providers for more than 17 years with only 11 base stations constructed from such funds as at last year.

Imagine switching from one network to the other while you still maintain your phone number. This is the only expensive solution that we should task Potraz to take and put all these imminent problems to rest.

Naturally with MNPs even the service providers benefit too as subscribers can now freely migrate to the network of choice and quality service.

MNPs encourage competition and force service delivery. The only entities that should fight MNPs are those scared of real competition and reluctant to improve service delivery. Otherwise the subscribers should decide which network really gets to enjoy their dollar not the other way round.

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