Will Tanzania beat neighbours in number portability efforts?

Saturday October 6 2012

By DAVID MUGWE Special Correspondent

Mobile number portability could succeed in Tanzania compared with other countries in the region on the strength of a soon to be launched centralised money transfer service.

Experts say a centralised mobile money system will enable consumers switch from one operator to another without losing their service.

Number portability failed in Kenya because Safaricom, the leading mobile phone provider, had a stranglehold on the mobile money transfer service through its M-Pesa platform, which served as a customer retention tool.

Mobile number portability allows consumers to switch service providers without changing numbers.

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority will license an operator to handle the centralised mobile money system.

The bidding process has already attracted international porting firms including Netherlands based PortingXS International, which owns Porting Access Kenya.

“We have been in contact with TCRA and they have asked us for expressions of interest; we are among nine companies that have applied,” said Ronald Vlasman, the chief executive officer Porting Access Kenya, which also provides the services in Ghana.

But managing director of Vodacom Tanzania Rene Meza expects the impact on mobile number portability to be insignificant.

“Number portability has been a failure all over the world, including Kenya where the uptake has not changed the market dynamics and landscape. Mobile customers will always prefer operators who deliver the best services and value for money,”  said Mr Meza.

Communications Commission of Kenya launched the number portability service in April last year and by June, 36,224 ports had been done.

Between July and September 2011, a total of 1,929 ports were done while 2,407 were done between October and December last year. Between January and March this year 6,646 ports were done.

This is in contrast to Ghana where in the 12 months to mid-July this year, a total of 370,107 ports had been done after the service was launched in mid-July last year, according to the National Communications Authority.

Tanzania has seven mobile phone operators including Vodacom, Safaricom’s parent company, which is owned by United Kingdom based Vodaphone, and Airtel, a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel which also has operations in Kenya and Uganda.

Vodacom had a 47 per cent market share in terms of subscribers as at the end of March this year, according to data from TCRA while Airtel had a 26 per cent market share.

Mr Vlasman said it is expected that Uganda and Rwanda will follow in the footsteps of Kenya and Tanzania, adding that number portability forces mobile operators to invest in retention programmes and improve quality.