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Travelling numbers

Almost all mobile service brands say the much anticipated and much delayed mobile number portability is not going to be a game changer in their industry. And yet, not one of them is holding back on doing their best — in effort and expenses — to get subscribers to port from competing service brands to their own.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2011 23:48 IST
Anita Sharan

Almost all mobile service brands say the much anticipated and much delayed mobile number portability is not going to be a game changer in their industry. And yet, not one of them is holding back on doing their best — in effort and expenses — to get subscribers to port from competing service brands to their own.

Idea Cellular started advertising before the launch of MNP in November 2010. By now, there is a communication deluge as MNP cuts across India. Leading players such as Airtel and Vodafone have gone aggressive across TV, print, radio, outdoor, at points of sale and online.

Newer entrants Uninor and MTS have been advertising over the past two months or so. To Idea’s celebrity endorser Abhishek Bachchan, Airtel has roped in AR Rahman, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor.

Vodafone has a TV ad featuring a kiddie photo session and hoardings welcoming subscribers to much better services and quality without changing their mobile numbers.

And riding on the din, though perhaps not specifically MNP-driven, is Videocon with its zero-paisa per second call offer — for the period of one year — on its TV ad and outdoor media.

So is it much ado about nothing?

Mritunjay Kapur, MD, Protiviti Consulting India (Protiviti is an international risk management and business consulting group), said, “Because one brand is doing it, others are also doing it. It’s a very competitive market.” With as many as 15 mobile service brands fighting for business, no one would miss out on any action, not even in a market with a subscriber base as large as 75.22 crore as on December 31, 2010, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) figures.

Atul Bindal, president, mobile services, Bharti Airtel, said, “Pre-paid subscriptions make up 95% of the total mobile customer base in India. With already very high monthly pre-paid churn at around 7%, MNP will have very small impact at an industry level.”

Samaresh Parida, director, corporate strategy, Vodafone Essar, said, “In most countries where MNP has been launched, the action mostly lasted over three-four months, by which time subscribers settled down with the service of their choice.”

However, port-outs and port-ins are happening with every service, big and small. "We have seen 2,17,000 port-ins and 1,25,000 port-outs," said Parida. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/14_02_11_business25a.jpg

While attractive price deals are very visible, the bigger players insist that low pricing cannot be a sole driver for MNP movement. “We find customers changing operators due to network issues. Our research also indicates that they are switching operators because of service and not pricing issues,” Bindal said.

But, he added, “the possibility of ongoing tactical promotional offers at the local level cannot be ignored. As prices in India are already very low, there is no further scope for a sustainable price drop. With MNP launch, all existing operators will be working on improving their quality of services — network, customer service, products.”

“Customers responding to MNP are making more considered choices. Their requests are on network quality, service, brand strength and also tariffs,” Parida observed.

Rajat Mukarji, chief corporate affairs officer, Idea Cellular, said, “Consumers, our research shows, are looking for a pan-India network offering seamless connectivity; affordable, relevant products and service offerings; accessible and humane customer care; accurate billing systems; voice clarity; and no call drops. These are the key parameters for satisfaction and will ultimately be the deciding factors for exercising choice, post MNP. These were the highlights on our ad campaign, with its key message, ‘No Idea, Get Idea’.”

Newer operators are, however, more upbeat on the mix of attractive pricing and less cluttered networks since their subscriber bases are smaller.

“We expect MNP to boost our subscriber base. January-November 2010 TRAI numbers show that 14% of incremental subscribers were brought in by new operators. Post MNP, 60% of our port-ins were GSM consumers. The new operators received licences at varied intervals between 2008 and 2009, so their achievement is even more significant,” said Leonid Musatov, chief marketing officer, MTS India, which offers CDMA services.

Olav Sande, EVP, western circle, Uninor India, said dynamic pricing has worked wonderfully for Uninor. “We see MNP as an excellent opportunity to grow. In itself, MNP is not a basic need. The basic need is the attractiveness of the plan in terms of price and the services we offer on that plan,” he said.

Every mobile service brand wants the high ARPU (average revenue per user) subscriber — who is mostly a post-paid customer — but is not averse to lower revenue customers too.

Parida explained, “Naturally, I would give higher priority to my high ARPU customer. Below that, based on usage segmentation, I would offer different services to different customer sets.”

Airtel’s Bindal was more direct: “We remain focused on delivering complete ‘value’ as against offering just the price proposition. We hope to acquire few customers in the category of deal seekers that keep switching operators depending upon ‘offer of the day’ schemes. Our early analysis indicates that among MNP port-ins, Airtel is getting disproportionate share of high value customers from other operators.”

Does MNP impact anything then? Protiviti’s Kapur concluded, “It gives consumers choice. It puts greater pressure on mobile service operators to improve their products, services and quality. Overall, MNP can create better balance in overall deliveries. Consumers gain.”