MILAN – Claudio Pellegatta had been a Vodafone client in Italy for several years when in 2005 he decided to switch to Wind, the carrier his girlfriend uses, so he could call her more cheaply.
Italy, like the United States, Japan and most of the rest of Europe, has imposed a mobile number “portability” requirement, allowing Pellegatta to change cellphone companies while keeping his phone number.
“I filed the papers to switch and then a few days later Vodafone called me to offer cheaper calls if I would stay with them,” said Pellegatta, who lives near Milan and works for a company that makes prefabricated houses. “I said no and then they kept calling every few days with a better offer every time until I finally accepted.”
That, after all, is what number portability laws were meant for: to motivate competitors to improve services and lower prices.
But the full potential of number portability has not been realized because of ineffective regulators, uncooperative service providers, a general lack of awareness and high costs, both in time and money, according to a recent study by Analysys Research in Cambridge, England. There are few countries where more than 10 percent of mobile phone customers have taken advantage of number portability, the study concluded.
The rules governing how much it costs to switch and how long it should take vary from country to country, and the research showed that some regulators do not vigorously apply the rules or simply have not made the conditions sufficiently stringent. This leaves a window for service providers to delay switchovers, or in some cases even to charge as much as $50 to carry a number over.
Alastair Brydon, who co-wrote the Analysys report, said that in Britain and Italy, just under 10 percent of mobile phone users had taken advantage of number portability, while in France and Germany the number of people keeping their numbers when switching carriers was negligible. In the United States, about 5 percent of cellphone users have taken their numbers to a new operator. One country that stands out is Finland, where about 55 percent of cellphone users have transferred their phone number in the four years since the service was introduced. The survey covered 25 countries.
“The concept of losing your mobile number in Finland is more painful to people because 35 percent of households do not have a fixed-line phone and 70 percent of all phone traffic is on mobiles,” Brydon said.
Number portability has not, as some regulators and experts had expected, ushered in a new era of radically improved cellphone services. Customers are not switching seamlessly, and often, between service providers, even though from a technical point of view, the time needed to transfer a number has diminished significantly.
“In the world, the average is about eight days for mobile number portability,” said Naveen Suri, vice president for industry information services at Telcordia, a company in New Jersey that provides software and back-office services to service providers offering number portability.
“Some countries take 30 days, but 3 to 5 days is becoming more prevalent. In the U.S., the regulator has mandated that it not take more than 2.5 hours, but operators often get it done it in 20 minutes.”
Number portability has spurred savvy cellphone users to wrangle better offers out of their cellphone companies by filling out the paperwork to switch and then waiting for their service provider to call them with offers. Vodafone calls clients who have applied for number portability only if they spend a “significant” amount every month, said a former Vodafone employee who still works in the industry and therefore did not want to be identified. A Vodafone spokesman in London, Ben Padovan, said that there was no specific groupwide policy about this and that each operating company dealt with its own clients.
But such shopping around can backfire. In 2005, Pellegatta eventually agreed to stay with Vodafone after the carrier offered €50 a month of free calls for six months and cheaper calls to all numbers. He filed the papers to switch again a few months ago, and Vodafone made him a modest offer. He refused it in anticipation of something better, but a second offer never came. He is now, finally, a Wind customer.
Fuente: International Herald Tribune