Clients can expect cellphone feud

Thomas McLachlan

Thomas McLachlan

Cellphone networks are bracing themselves for stiff competition when mobile number portability (MNP) finally comes into effect on Friday.

MNP will allow users to switch between networks while keeping the same number, and all the networks indicated yesterday that they would pick up the cost of the porting fees.

Cell C was the first of the operators to make the announcement with competitors Vodacom, Cell C and Virgin Mobile quickly following suit.

"As part of its commitment to providing South Africans with an opportunity to move networks, Cell C has decided to drop this charge," chief executive Jeffery Hedberg said, adding that this would make the service more affordable.

This is the first of competitive tactics, which is expected to heat up, once portability is introduced, with smaller operators such as Cell C and Virgin poised to attract more consumers using flashy new packages and lower prices.

Established players like MTN and Vodacom have indicated that they would opt for alternative products rather than cut prices to retain their contract consumers.

The launch of MNP follows closely on the Japanese market's move in this direction last month, which resulted in a price war between providers.

Despite Japanese providers' fears about losing their contracted clients, experts said that the country has not seen as much switching activity as was expected.

Similar forecasts have been made regarding South Africa, with local analysts betting lower-than-anticipated movement because of the small fraction of customers who are tied into contracts with operators.

Only 10 percent are expected to take their number elsewhere, according to technology research company World Wide Worx.

Last month industry cowboy Sir Richard Branson locked himself in a cage as a statement against the industry's constant delaying of number portability, saying that it locked people into contracts unfairly.

"Every time we thought it was going to happen, the date gets postponed," Branson said, adding that number portability was expected to have been introduced almost a year ago. - With I-Net Bridge and Sapa