India delays mobile number portability plan to March

The Indian government has delayed the implementation of its mobile number portability (MNP) plan to March 31, it said Thursday.

MNP will allow subscribers to retain mobile numbers after they change mobile operators. Users are currently allotted a new number when they change mobile service providers.

Under guidelines proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), mobile users will be allowed to use the same mobile number even if these providers use different mobile technologies.

In India, the majority of subscribers are on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks, with the rest on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks.

The MNP facility was to have been introduced in stages from Dec. 31, starting with the nation's four largest cities and some other service areas.

The rollout in March will now be across the country at one go, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said. It said that it had delayed the rollout because some operators had not yet upgraded their networks to support MNP.

India's mobile services market has become very competitive with new entrants like the Indian joint ventures of Telenor and Sistema rolling out services in the country. Service providers offering mobile telephony using CDMA technology have also introduced additional services using the GSM standard.

Voice tariffs have fallen as a result of the competition to less than to 0.01 Indian rupees (US$0.0002) per second. Earlier tariffs were typically fixed by the minute.

The introduction of MNP is expected to increase competition in the market further as the new entrants try to attract customers from established players.

Analysts however do not expect a significant shift by subscribers from one operator to another as a result of the MNP, because quality of service and cost are not key differentiators in the market. There may be an initial churn which will taper off, said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner.

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