Less than 5,000 UAE mobile users have transferred number since MNP launch

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), confirms that 5,000 requests to transfer numbers to another network have been received since the launch of mobile number portability on December 30, but declined to give more details.

Mobile phone users in the UAE are now able to transfer their numbers between operators, but the TRA reports less than 5,000 have managed to make the switch. Jeff Topping / The National
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Less than 5,000 users have managed to transfer their mobile number to another operator since the launch of mobile number portability last month.

Mohammed Al Ghanim, the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), confirmed that 5,000 requests to transfer numbers to another network have been received since the launch of mobile number portability (MNP) on December 30.

Many but not all of the requests have been successfully completed, he said, declining to give more details.

Mr Al Ghanim said that he was satisfied with the number of people looking to transfer their numbers thus far, but admitted that it was too early to draw too many conclusions.

“It’s premature for us to judge the impact that MNP will have,” he said. “We have to give it at least a month or two before there is meaningful data.”

Mr Al Ghanim, speaking on the sidelines of an ICT workshop co-organised by the TRA and Enterprise Ireland, declined to give an indication of whether more users had opted to transfer their number from Etisalat or du.

Both Etisalat and du did not respond to requests for comments about the number of subscribers that have transferred their number to the other operator.

The relatively small number of users looking to transfer their numbers comes as no great surprise, said Matthew Reed, an analyst with Informa in Dubai.

“Mobile markets such as the UAE are dominated by prepaid subscriptions, which have traditionally been less impacted by the launch of mobile number portability,” he said.

Subscribers on monthly contracts, who are far more likely to want to transfer their number when changing operators, account for about 13 per cent of the total for the UAE at the end of September, he said.

The UAE is the last country in the GCC to offer mobile number portability. The matter had been on the TRA’s agenda for more than three years but was delayed due to a series of technical difficulties.

Bahrain, which has a similar mix of contract and prepaid subscriptions to the UAE, recorded just 10,000 successful requests to transfer a number to a different network, in the three months after introducing MNP in July 2011.

Only 59,000 Bahraini numbers, representing 2.8 per cent of the country’s total subscriber base, were ported to a different network in the 18 months after MNP was introduced.

Despite the small numbers involved, both UAE operators have not been blase about MNP, launching a range of aggressive marketing campaigns to try and attract subscribers from their rival.

“From the customer’s point of view, it is clearly better to have MNP than not,” said Mr Reed. “It removes one barrier to switching provider, and it might spur providers into improving services.”

Having launched mobile number portability, the regulator intends to address the equally pressing issue of increasing competition in the fixed line and internet segment, said Mr Al Ghanim.

“We’ve finished conducting a technical feasibility study for opening up of the fixed line market,” he said. “What’s left to do now is to finalise pricing details.”

The regulator ordered Etisalat in July to open its fixed line infrastructure up to du to enable customers to choose between the two operators, but little has been achieved since then.

Mr Al Ghanim said that the regulator hopes to make progress on the issue during this year, but would not be drawn further on timing.