Despite massive marketing campaigns that included Sir Richrd Branson made up as Che Guevera and posturing in a cage during lunch hour in Melrose Arch, mobile number portability (MNP) could be seen to have ended up a bit of a damp squib.

With Cell C the only one of the Big Three to have gone big on promoting it – possibly because it has the most to gain – the massive churn that might have been anticipated simply hasn't happened.
However, it may still be coming, says VoxTelecom MD Jaco Voigt, who points out that savvy consumers stand to make huge gains if they understand the system – and, in the long run, networks and service providers will be forced to pay more attention to the needs of their customers.
“This was never going to be a quick revolution,” says Voigt. “Only a couple of thousand people have ported so far, but that’s not unexpected.
"For people on contracts it makes sense to wait until their current contract expires before they move, so every month is going to bring a new wave of people who suddenly have new options apart from renewing the same old contract. We’re very interested to see what starts happening there.”
Voigt says the 24-month contracts currently standard in the industry are “a huge disincentive” and says he expects networks and service providers to start becoming a lot more aggressive in their competition.
“We expect to see contract periods coming down to around 12 months within the next year or so, and that will change the picture quite a lot."
Voigt explains it is also now possible not just to change networks, but also to change service providers within the same network.
“A lot of consumer issues are related to their service providers, not their networks. People who are unhappy with any aspect of the service they’re getting are now able to vote with their feet. If consumers actually take that opportunity it will really shake the industry up.”
Apart from shorter contract periods, Voigt says consumers should expect to see service providers competing to offer the most convenient packages at the best price.
“It’s already becoming more common to expect to have your new phone delivered to your door,” he says. “That’s the kind of added convenience that can really help to motivate someone to move. I also expect to see the service providers starting to offer more value-added services, better account management and, with luck, better support.”
A far as call quality is concerned, Voigt says he hopes number portability will start forcing the networks to be more open.
“Right now there’s absolute silence about network and call quality, which is great for the networks because they can hide a lot,” he says. “I’m very interested to see which network will be first to start publishing its stats around the number of successful connections, the number of dropped calls and so on. Once that kind of information is public consumers will be empowered to make better choices about where they spend their money.”
For those who do decide to port, Voigt offers a checklist to ensure the process is as painless as possible.
“People should first make sure that their contract period has expired, or be prepared to pay up the contract in full,” he says. “Then, provided you have all your information and ID at hand, you should be able to get a new SIM card and port within 24 hours.
"There is no charge to port, so people should make sure they aren’t being charged any more than the normal fee for a new SIM card.
"Finally, before you switch to your new SIM card it’s a good idea to check your old voicemail box one last time to be sure you don’t miss any messages. Apart from that, the process is very easy. Once people start to realise that, more and more will take the opportunity to port.”
Meanwhile, Cell C (including Virgin Mobile) is reaping some rewards from its massive advertising campaign and has captured about 40% of all MNP ports so far. It is also the only net gainer in the churn, and has lost just 13% of its own existing ports.
“We continue to be very encouraged by these numbers, albeit on the back of small volumes,” says Vanashree Pillay, head of corporate communications at Cell C.
"Currently there are no major technical problems and all systems are running smoothly,” said Pillay.
He adds that consumers need to bear in mind that  MNP is a big technical operation and has to integrate the systems from not only the three network operators but also the systems from the Porting Company.
"To get all the back-end systems interfacing correctly with each other is a complex task which has resulted in problems,” he says.
Reasons for many of the initial ports failing have been attributed to incorrect or invalid data being provided. This has resulted in applications being rejected and consequently causing porting delays.
Commenting on the relatively low number of subscribers electing to port, Pillay says that Cell C had always expected the introduction of MNP to be gradual.
“MNP is a not a big bang once off activity. We have always believed that MNP is a journey and not a race,” says Pillay.
“People have been locked into contracts or have been attached to their numbers.  What MNP requires is a behavioural change and, with time, we believe more consumers will see the value of the option they have in being able to choose.”