M'sia on track with number portability

With the ongoing trial scheduled to be completed by end-2007, Malaysia is on target to implement mobile number portability by the first half of 2008.

MALAYSIA--The government is on target to implement mobile number portability (MNP) by the first half of next year, a move that is expected to allow service providers to encourage customer loyalty.

MNP allows mobile subscribers to retain their mobile numbers when they switch to another service provider, and has been tipped as a key factor to boost the telecommunications landscape.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) first indicated its desire to see MNP implemented early this year.

According to research firm Ovum, such initiative would result in new, innovative customer loyalty programmes and packages, such as the bundling of standard services with free value-added services.

It added that subscriber lock-in strategies could include attractive intra-network tariff structures, encouraging customers to stay with the same operator.

Mobile users can also expect the creation of "community-based" services such as blogs, instant messaging and multi-user games, which will be made available only to users on the same operator network.

The MCMC has since started a trial with the three major service providers in the country, which is expected to conclude by year-end. The results of the trial will then be used to guide the implementation of MNP, slated to begin in the first half of 2008 and be completed by end-2008.

Several countries in the region have already implemented MNP including Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Taiwan and Japan.

Krishna Baidya, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said two methods are commonly used to implement MNP. The first encompasses the implementation of a centralized clearinghouse or database, through which calls are routed directly from the originating network to the terminating mobile network, Krishna said in an e-mail interview.

The second methodology involves a peer-to-peer approach where the subscriber's previous operator forwards calls made to his old mobile number, to the number assigned by his new mobile operator.

Krishna said: "Malaysia, like Japan and Hong Kong, has indicated taking the first approach to MNP as it has appointed three companies--Talian Gerak Alih, Unified Communications and Telcordia Technologies--to operate and manage an MNP clearinghouse."

He noted that MNP is a widely-accepted regulatory tool used to promote healthy competition, encourage the deployment of new technology, reduce cost to users and enhance customer choice in the mobile market.

"When MNP is implemented, the telcos will compete with each other in order to keep their users from switching to competitors. It is an effective tool to eliminate customer 'stickiness' simply as a result of attachment to a mobile number," Krishna said.

Challenges ahead
However, the Frost & Sullivan analyst said the industry still faces several challenges that the MCMC needs to address before the impact of MNP can be fully felt.

"[The MCMC] has to confirm that the stakeholders are ready to implement the solution and have the capability to deploy the technical platform without any issues," Krishna explained.

"Service providers would also need to ensure back-end infrastructure such as billing of content services and international messaging services (SMS/MMS) to support MNP.

In addition, number prefixes are currently used to identify which mobile operator the caller and calling party subscribe to. Operators in Malaysia typically charge more for calls made to subscribers of a different service provider, and the number prefixes allow service providers to charge each call accordingly. After the MNP plan is implemented, Krishna said, callers can no longer be identified this way.

These are just some challenges operators will need to iron out.

"Given the complex nature of MNP implementation, it may require an additional 12- to 15-month gestation period to see the full effects of MNP in Malaysia," Krishna said.

When contacted, DiGi Telecommunications said it is unable to provide details on the ongoing MNP trial due to a non-disclosure policy imposed by the MCMC. DiGi is the smallest, based on subscriber numbers, of Malaysia's three mobile operators.

Albern Murty, head of product development and management for the service provider, told ZDNet Asia: "We are working with the MCMC and other industry players to implement MNP in Malaysia in a timely manner.

"DiGi has been working closely with the industry to propose a preferred technical solution which will enable efficient MNP implementation to benefit customers," Murty said. "Internally, we are evaluating the necessary upgrading of our network in order to be able to support MNP."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.