Mobile number portability banned permanently due to security fears

Published: November 15, 2012

Telecom authority issues directives to all operators, with immediate effect. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has directed telecom operators to permanently ban Mobile Number Portability (MNP) service with immediate effect, another shock to the telecom industry that is yet to recover from a recent blow – they can’t sell SIMs through sales channels from December 1.

PTA sent this directive to all telecom operators in a notification on Wednesday, a telecom industry source told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. However, those who have already shifted networks will not be affected.

The ban was imposed for security reasons, the source said while referring to media reports that say MNP makes it difficult to trace the whereabouts of terrorists.

On its website, The Express Tribune reported on Monday that PTA had received several instructions from the Ministry of Interior about tackling unregistered SIMs including an immediate ban on MNP facility, which allows the user to switch to a different service provider while retaining the same number.

A recent PTA notification also directed cellular mobile operators (CMOs) to retrieve the entire stock of SIMs from their sales channels – customer service centres, franchises and retailers. The regulator asked CMOs to permanently stop selling SIMs through these channels from December 1.

Among other directives, the notification also required the telecos to deliver new SIMs at the CNIC address of customers.

“We are clueless as to what threats MNP can pose to national security,” the source asked. “The MNP service was initiated in March 2007 by the government itself to benefit consumers willing to switch to a better package while keeping the same mobile number.”

This facility was popular among the consumers. By March 2011, according to PTA’s annual report, about 11 million people had availed the MNP facility. This number, according to industry sources, reached 25 million in September 2012.

The Ministry of Interior has come down hard on telecos recently by imposing restrictions including suspension of mobile networks on special occasions to control law and order and stem the threat of terrorism.

There were three major cellular outages – Eidul Fitr, Eidul Azha and Yaum-e-Ishqe Rasool – recently and another one is apparently just round the corner at Ashura, an industry source said.

Telecom losses for the first two outages, the source said, amount to Rs2.6 billion and Rs600 million respectively while government losses in terms of taxes amount to Rs507 million and Rs180 million respectively.

Talking about Tuesday’s notification about closing the sales channels, the source said, “This decision, if implemented, will change the whole dynamics of the cellular industry, the way it is supporting the national economy, investment, jobs, liaison, vendors, marketing, etc.”

CMOs, according to telecom sources, have a network of 1,850 franchises and 196,000 retailers. Nearly half a million people will be directly affected by the decision, the source said.

Franchises and retailers also sell scratch cards and easy loads, but they only earn 3% on each card sold or each mobile load, he said. If SIMs are not allowed to be sold through franchises and retailers, their monthly profits will come down by 50%, which will go up to 70% over time due to decrease in commission, the sources claim.

“We were not consulted about the viability of this solution,” another telecom industry source said, adding no one is denying the problem, but it has to be sorted out by working together and one sided directives won’t help.

Mailing SIMs to the CNIC address is not practical as many people live in a different place and have different address on their CNICs, the source said. Those under 18 years of age neither have a driving licence nor a CNIC, the main requirements for getting a new SIM. The source also questioned how the rural sector would be catered to under these directives. The PTA directives may not send positive signals to the investors at a time when 3G licence is in the pipeline, the source said, such a situation will make telecom investors reluctant.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.

Reader Comments (12)

  • Hasan
    Nov 15, 2012 - 2:23AM

    This is a step backwards as usual.. entire world have MNP … except this country. India and China with 1 billion connections each can have MNP, while we cant even provide the same to the small base we have. This is shameful..

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  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Nov 15, 2012 - 2:59AM

    non sense. Phone portability is way to keep the customer with that particular service provider. I have the same number for last ten years but different service provider. Its nothing but a lame excuse.Recommend

  • Aandiya
    Nov 15, 2012 - 8:54AM

    My issue is less with PTA and more with the Telecom Sector who as a lobby can simply refuse archaic policy. But they won’t organize and do so because many of their own top executives can be seen to be a part of the system.

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  • Nov 15, 2012 - 9:40AM

    I have never seen such a pathetic governance. Instead of providing the nation with 3G platforms and other technologies the world is embracing our Government is taking back the existing ones banning Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, MNP and Cellular Services. The government in place seems to me a time machine taking us back to the dark ages.

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  • HUMAN
    Nov 15, 2012 - 11:19AM

    from where is One gona get new sim now ?

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  • Hassaan
    Nov 15, 2012 - 11:43AM

    “MNP makes it difficult to trace the whereabouts of terrorists.”

    Wondering how that could even remotely be true. As long as the network is transmitting signals to the user’s phone, you can easily trace its location. I am one of the beneficiaries of MNP. My current service provider even provides me with my current location based on the cellphone tower it is receiving signals from. So how can the authorities not know then? Absurd argument to say the least.

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  • Concerned
    Nov 15, 2012 - 12:46PM

    The effect of this step will benefit Telecos because now People will not be able switch carriers.

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  • Uzair J
    Nov 15, 2012 - 12:57PM

    What nonsense!! a sim is supposed to get connectivity to a phone, be it on any network, portability cant blow up bombs. Recommend

  • Nov 15, 2012 - 4:18PM

    It is observed that if you change your network twice in two months, it wouldn’t be easy to know your network due to PTA, they put it on us, very sad.

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  • Muhammad Munir
    Nov 15, 2012 - 4:54PM

    This is how Zardari & Rehman Baba will black mail telecom industry for bribe’s.**

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  • Analyzer
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:31AM

    Good move, now ban all prepaid SIMs as well, since mobile companies have been very irresponsible in issuing them without verification.

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  • khawajag
    Nov 17, 2012 - 5:32AM

    SIM is SIN.

    its all about to issue 3G license to Etisalat. Govt deal with etisalat to issue him a 3G license that why PTCL (3G Evo) & Ufone (Futura) offers Some 3G service without getting license.

    In 2007, Pakistan has advanatage to starts MNP in south Asia. Now govt just ban this due to Telecos demand after ban of sims on the shops. Now if u have your primary nmbr with poor network service or highest tariff, U have no choice other than to change your nmbr.
    :(
    Dunia Agey Jati hai, Pakistan Peechy Ata hai.

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