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Malaysia finally rolls out number portability

But service is rolled out in phases, starting with mobile subscribers in the Klang Valley. Nationwide availability is expected only in October.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--Cellular phone subscribers in the country can finally switch mobile service providers of their choice without having to change their numbers.

Industry regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), last week said mobile number portability (MNP) will be made available to consumers in the Klang Valley on a limited basis.

MNP allows mobile subscribers to retain their mobile numbers when they switch to another service provider, and has been tipped to boost market competition.

Shaziman Abu Mansor, Minister of Energy, Water and Communications, said prepaid users in the Klang Valley will be able to switch service providers immediately. They will be followed by post-paid users in two weeks' time.

"The nationwide launch of the MNP service is scheduled to take place in October," Shaziman said in a media statement Friday. "Initially, only individual account holders will be able to change their service providers, while business accounts may do so after the nationwide launch in October."

However, he noted, each service provider will only be able to accept 100 requests to switch service providers per day until the service is launched nationwide. Additional requests will be accepted but placed in queue to be activated the following day, he added.

According to the MCMC, service providers are allowed to charge up to 25 ringgit (US$7.4) each time subscribers change their service provider. It added that those who wish to sign up for the service are advised to contact any of the country's mobile operators: Celcom, Maxis, DiGi and U-Mobile.

Information can be found on the MCMC's Web site.

Industry notes delay
The industry regulator ran a trial with three service providers in November last year, with implementation work commencing in the first half of 2008 and initially slated to complete by year-end.

However, industry observers said they had expected MNP to be available by the second quarter the year. According to sources familiar with the matter, negotiations amongst service providers took longer than anticipated.

"Eventually, [the service providers] had to rush to sort it out because the MCMC wanted it implemented by August," said one source who spoke with ZDNet Asia on condition of anonymity.

Marc Einstein, senior industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan, said MNP implementation is often delayed because a centralized database of all numbers needs to be established and maintained to act as a clearinghouse.

"[I believe] this is most likely the case for the delay in Malaysia," Einstein told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

The analyst said the phased deployment of MNP, starting with the Klang Valley, was not surprising because the location, which encompasses capital city Kuala Lumpur, has the vast majority of subscribers in Malaysia and represents the bulk of opportunity for operators.

"This will naturally increase the churn rates in any given mobile market," he said. "We typically see 5 to 10 percent of a country's mobile subscriber base porting their numbers within the first six months of implementation."

The Frost & Sullivan analyst noted that because there are no triple- or quadruple-play offerings in Malaysia as yet, the advantage of service bundling will not be a factor.

Einstein said: "We expect most users to port mainly to take advantage of an operator's better coverage, pricing, handset availability, subsidy and pricing."

The extent of MNP's impact in a market boils down to how operators choose to tap the service as a marketing tool. "[For example], we expect U-Mobile to want to market MNP as it is the newest operator in the market," he said.

Einstein added that DiGi Telecommunications would also want to be able to market its new 3G services eventually, while some subscribers might want to switch to Maxis and Celcom to sign on to RIM's Blackberry packages offered by both service providers.

"We [also] expect to see handset subsidies become more generous as markets become more competitive," he said.

Countries in the region that have already deployed MNP include Singapore, Australia and Japan.

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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