A new regime in mobile telecommunications in Nigeria is set to unfold soon as the Nigerian Communications Commission is expected to announce the nation’s mobile phone number portability service provider.
Industry sources conversant with the bid conducted by NCC to appoint a service provider for number portability, have revealed that a consortium comprising US-based Telcordia Technologies and Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria (ICN) is likely to be announced by the industry regulator soon.
Telcordia is the chief architect of the telecommunications system in the US, and has pioneered many of the telecommunications services used today, including caller ID, call waiting, mobile number portability and toll-free telephone number service.
It was also appointed the service provider for number portability in South Africa when the service was launched in the country a few years ago.
ICN, on the other hand, is a licensed interconnect exchange operator which was established over five years ago by the husband of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and former Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Alison Madueke (rtd), and other shareholders, to provide accurate billing of interconnect traffic for telecom operators in Nigeria.
In a recent interview with Technology Times in Abuja, NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Dr Eugene Juwah, revealed that the telecoms regulator had selected a company from those who bid for the service to enable mobile phone users change service providers while still keeping their unique numbers.
He, however, declined to disclose the identity of the company that will be licensed for the “Mobile Number Portability Administration Service”.
The ability of mobile phone users to port their phone numbers from one operator to the other, will mark a major milestones in the industry and will engender competition in Nigeria’s telecoms sector of over 90 million active subscribers. It was also enable new entrants and smaller operators gain market share.
The service will also be available to fixed line users after the successful execution of the project for mobile phone users.
In the interview, Juwah had said NCC was delaying the announcement of the winner because some of the details of the porting arrangement “are being worked out.”
The telecoms regulator had recently shortlisted four companies, including Telcordia, among those bidding for Nigeria’s mobile number portability operator licence.
Apart from Telcordia, three others that were considered for the licence include Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria, Wagatel and TeleTeck.
But the four companies were later to forge alliances into two consortia with Telcordia and ICN pushing a joint bid against the Wagatel-TeleTeck team.
This was done in an apparent deference to NCC’s preference to issue the mobile number portability administration service to companies, which may have provided similar services “in other jurisdictions”, but must have a partnership with a Nigerian company.
The two consortia presented their proposed service offerings, solutions and terms at a recent briefing held at the NCC corporate headquarters in Abuja where they made presentations to key decision makers in the telecoms industry, the regulatory agency and other stakeholders, in what marked the final phase of consultations and evaluations preceding the eventual grant of the number porting licence to one of the two bidding consortia.
According to the bid documents issued to the bidding consortia, NCC plans to implement number porting in response to service quality challenges and also step up competition in the telecoms sector.
Juwah, during the interview, said: “I am happy to tell you that we have now selected a service provider for the number portability. Don’t ask me who it is but I can tell you we have selected the company and in the right time, we will announce it.”
Before the eventual selection, NCC held consultations with telecoms operators and stakeholders and also evaluated proposals and solutions proffered by the bidders for mobile number porting in which phone users will keep their mobile numbers when they change service providers.
Under the plan, the number porting service is expected to commence after the completion of the ongoing nationwide mobile phone registration that ends September 28.
The number porting service will be available to only registered phone users as NCC has directed network operators to disconnect unregistered lines at the end of the mobile phone registration exercise.
“The registration is expected to be completed by September 28, 2011. After this period, all unregistered SIM cards will be disconnected from the networks,” the NCC had earlier announced.
Juwah said under the terms of the selection deal, network operators, rather than mobile phone users, would pay for number porting by their subscribers, adding that finer details of the licence are currently being worked out among all stakeholders.
Asked if the operators will not transfer the cost to their subscribers, he said: “Well, not directly. At least, they cannot say because you transferred your phone number, this is the cost. As far as we are concerned, the cost of transfer of porting to a subscriber is free. It is zero.”
He said even if the licence is issued to a Nigerian company, part of the licence term is that the partnership forged during the licence bids must be retained.
According to him: “It is not really a consortium but a partnership which must go on in the operations. It will be part of the agreement that these partners that came from day one in competition for this licence must be retained during the operations. So it is a partnership rather than a consortium.”
He said the decision is informed by the need to guard against a situation in which the partnership is severed once the licence is issued to the successful company.
NCC had earlier said SIM registration would precede number portability not only to generate a database of phone users but also to assist security agencies in resolving crimes and by extension to enhance the security of the state; facilitate the collation of data by NCC about phone usage in Nigeria and enable operators to have a predictable profile about the users on their networks; and effectively implement other value added services like number portability, among others.
Under the plan, NCC’s non-mobile market expansion plan is to expand number portability to the other telecoms markets, including operators of fixed and VoIP, among others, that will see the mobile number portability administrator offer and manage the service between fixed, VOIP operators, fixed to mobile and mobile to fixed, among others.