MNP in Multi- SIM Markets

Most operators in Asian and African countries think that there is no need for number portability in the mobile market as a lot of subscribers already have SIMs from different operators. They assume that porting rates will be low and the costs of NP will be very high and so special programs will be needed to make NP a success. They also make assumptions about the fundamental structural differences compared to Western Europe and the United States. 

All these assumptions, except in the case of the fundamental structural difference, are wrong. It should be remembered that the goal of number portability is to promote competition, not to induce the maximum number of people to port. Also, it should be understood that a high prepaid rated does not mean that customers wouldn’t port. It should also be noted that the European and USA markets differ from those in Africa, Asia and other regional markets. 

In the USA and Western Europe postpaid services cover 40-90% of the market. Usually postpaid services generate a high ARPU, are used for both incoming and outgoing calls, and customers are inclined to port. Prepaid services are of a low value, a low ARPU and are used only for outgoing calls, and customers of these services are not liable to port.

In most of Africa’s, Asia’s and in other regional markets postpaid services use corporate users and prepaid services are for everyone else. So the category “everyone else” covers small business, independent contractors, students, children, occasional users, transients and new users. Corporate users, small business, students and young professionals are mostly potential users of MNP. Small business is the main battleground for MNP because a higher proportion of calls are incoming, the phone is critical to their lifestyle and they are sensitive to price. In the early stages of MNP launch in different countries, it was considered that prepaid was more difficult to port, but reality has shown that postpaid might be much more difficult to port, due to long contract cycles and the people making decisions belonging to corporate procurement. In some markets subscribers carry multiple SIMs, whereas in others they carry multiple handsets. 

These two situations are very different from the porting side. In a multiple SIM’s market customers carry several SIM’s and switch them in a single phone. In a multiple phone market both phones are always powered and in use. Why do people have multiple phones? There are two main reasons. The first reason is because of quality/coverage problems. This situation is very common in Africa because no single carrier can offer full coverage or ubiquitous quality even in a single city. In addition, there are quite often congestion problems. The second reason is the cultural distinctions between work and personal fields. In many cultures it is not acceptable to mix home and work communications, because using a work phone for personal use is considered as stealing. Also, mobile communication is relatively expensive and employers don’t want to pay for employees personal needs. Other reasons might be a “secret life”, the prestige factor or data services usage. 

Why do people have multiple SIMs? The main reason is the possibility to gain advantages from tariff differences as many operators offer free or discounted on-net calls, different long distance or international tariffs, or discounts on day time use. Analyzing from the porting side, in the multiple SIM’s case, you can see that this does not have a major impact on the desire for porting, but it does affect porting rates as it impacts the number of subscribers. SIM’s used due to tariff reasons affect outgoing calls. NP is only for incoming calls. Sometimes multiple handsets should be treated as two unique subscribers because the business and personal separation is obvious. But there also are numbers which won’t be the porting object. For example, numbers that aren’t used for incoming calls, numbers used very rarely (Low ARPU), temporary numbers (visitors, roamers), numbers used only in emergency cases, numbers which are not really mobile numbers.