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.