This week’s public hearings into proposed amendments to ICASA’s Numbering Portability Regulations are likely to soon result in the ability of business owners to port their 086 and 087 call centre numbers away from large telecoms firms that have been able to hold onto contact centre business by default.
“Independent telcos have been unable to compete fairly for the inbound call centre business held by the large incumbents due to the huge investments corporate clients have made in their 086 contact centre numbers,” says Rad Jankovic, CEO of independent telco Otel, which featured amongst the presenters to ICASA earlier this week.

“No organisation in their right mind will consider changing their inbound call centre to a new voice and data provider if they are unable to keep their heavily-advertised 086 contact centre numbers.”

The negative effects of not being able to port 086 and 087 numbers is not limited to the call centre market, but extends to any large organisation with central 0861, 0860 and 087 inbound numbers.

Number portability enables fixed and mobile telecommunications customers to keep their existing telephone numbers when switching from one provider to another. The further implementation of the principle of number portability as envisioned in the draft number portability regulations currently under review is a welcome additional step in the liberalisation of the South African telecommunications sector, according to Otel.

The current inability to port the 086 and 087 number ranges is additionally unfair because of the fact that independent telecoms firms like Otel have to create costly workarounds to enable the functionality for clients to receive calls from 0861, 0860 and 087 numbers.

The draft number portability regulations were published in the Government Gazette on 24 November 2017 as General Notice 1309. This opened up the public consultation process which culminated in the public hearings held during the week of 12 March 2018. Otel is supportive of many aspects of the draft regulations, in particular the introduction of porting for the 086 and 087 number ranges.

“In the minds of many executives, the call centre has gone from a necessary grudge purchase worthy of only entry-level staffing and the most basic of equipment, to an important driver of revenue generation and customer satisfaction,” Jankovic says.

“Organisations now realise that their call centre deserves the proper equipment to help them achieve their operational goals. Foremost amongst required resources for any modern contact centre is VoIP.

“Related to this, is the ability to switch VoIP providers while retaining one’s contact centre numbers when providers do not measure up to expectations. It should never be that business is retained for any other reason than service and product excellence,” he adds.

The first beneficiaries several years ago of the ability to port one’s telephone number to another provider, for whatever reason, were cellular consumers. Landline porting was later introduced, leading to further competition benefits for local telecoms consumers.