It appears that Sri Lankan mobile users fed up with their current provider will have to stay patient indefinitely as progress on Mobile Number Portability (MNP) reforms carry on at a snail’s pace one year on from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) giving the legal go ahead.
MNP was given legal approval by the TRCSL in October 2021. One year later the only progress to have been announced has been the formation of a consortium of Mobile Operators which in turn has established a company that will eventually take charge of the portability process.
Yet the average consumer is still no closer to being able to switch their telco provider without going through the major inconvenience of switching their number, and all of the work that comes with it. Meanwhile, the TRCSL and the industry remains tight lipped as to any kind of timeframe for these long awaited reforms.
At present, there has been no public discussions as to the methodology to be followed for the efficient implementation of MNP. Such a lack of transparency could leave room for vested interests to establish a mechanism so inconvenient as to discourage customers from switching their numbers, leading to wasted expenditure and effort to effectively maintain the industry status quo.
Industry insiders have also stated off the record that the long-awaited reforms have stalled at present. This, despite it being a widely popular standard across the globe that has long been established to lower costs for mobile services and force greater competition between telecom players, by putting greater choice in the hands of the average customer.
MNP is a service that allows mobile users that are unhappy with their telco provider to switch to another network without losing their current number. Without it, the only way that a customer can switch to a better service will be to get a new number, which tends to be such a significant inconvenience that most are effectively forced to remain with their mobile service provider, regardless of the quality or affordability of the service provided.
While all of Sri Lanka’s telco players – including the island’s two largest networks – came out with statements last year welcoming the decision to implement MNP so far only, Airtel Lanka has continued to remain vocal about the need for reform. Notably, a previous report from Fitch Ratings had noted that implementation of MNP would likely impact the largest players first.
Based on similar MNP regimes implemented in other Asian regions, it is widely believed that MNP will enable smaller players to compete more effectively with market incumbents. Locally, the fact that all four telcos have now upgraded their 4G networks and are 5G ready, enabling MNP is expected to provide an even and open playing field for telcos to compete for customers, based on value and quality of service, instead of simply relying on pre-existing relationships with customers.
An environment in which users are able to freely move between providers who offer the best deals, especially given the surging interest of customers in ensuring they receive maximum value in the context of a historic economic downturn is only fair. Yet the continued stagnation on MNP reforms mean that even if users wanted to take advantage of better products and offers that would be better suited their individual budgets and preferences, or switch to a network that has more reliable coverage, the entire business model currently in place is designed to discourage them from doing so.
In order to prevent such negative outcomes, it is clear that the Government and the regulator cannot afford to simply take a back-seat in these reforms. Instead, they should actively engage with the industry to set out clear deadlines, timeframes, and – above all – objectives for these critical, consumer-friendly reforms.