A large number of businesses that have been forced to rely on Telkom for years are likely to defect as soon as geographic number portability (GNP) becomes reality, allowing businesses to switch operators while retaining their existing fixed line numbers.
On 18 May 2009, ICASA announced the implementation of the first phase of GNP dealing with blocks of 1 000 and 10 000 numbers. In accordance with ICASA’s proclamation the second phase of GNP, which deals with the individual porting of numbers is due to go live on 18 March 2010, exactly 10 months after phase 1.
"The reality is that the first phase of GNP has had no real impact. Most business do not have consecutive 1 000 number blocks. Although single number portability enables individual residential customers to now have a choice, the real opportunity is in the corporate sector where companies have hundreds of fixed line numbers and are paying exorbitant fees to Telkom,” says Vox Telecom CEO Tony van Marken.
Telkom could see a mass migration to smaller, innovative operators like Vox Telecom once geographic number portability allows any company or individual to switch operator without losing their existing fixed line number.
Vox has already put all the necessary processes in place to switch customers on to its network, with CEO Tony van Marken promising that Vox will provide cheaper yet better quality services.
“A lot of consumers and businesses are exasperated by bad service and high prices and they will finally have real choice in which carrier they want to use. They will be able to take advantage of cheaper prices and in these economic times, that’s crucial. We are also calling on ICASA to ensure that there is no further delay with GNP and that Telkom is ready in accordance with ICASA’s own time table.”
Vox offers corporate customers cut-price calls and rebates on incoming calls. But the big barrier is that most companies do not want to lose their geographic number – such as 011 and 021 – due to the inconvenience.
“A lot of our customers with 200 or 300 numbers are very keen to use Vox telephone numbers, but they won’t do so until they can port their existing numbers from Telkom. We see the implementation of geographic number portability as a significant step in levelling the playing field for all the new ECNS operators in the SA market,” says Van Marken.
Vox is also calling for Telkom to reassure customers that it will not drag its feet to delay the process. “We have a lot of customers that want to port away from Telkom so we don’t want any delays. We hope that Telkom is ready, because we are ready and it is critical that we ensure that customers are finally given an alternative with no barriers to implementation.”
Van Marken says geographic number portability promises far greater benefits for consumers and corporates than the highly publicised issue of lower mobile interconnection fees.
Vox also believes geographic number porting will have a massive take-up compared to the muted response to mobile number porting. The cellular players offer similar fees and services to their rivals, making it barely worth switching networks. But the cost and quality of landline services varies significantly between rival players, so customers have much to gain by switching networks.