MNP turning out to be a mere 'placebo' for subscribers; mobile operators’ margins may take a hit

Mobile number portability may not be a game changer for the industry, but it could affect margins of mobile operators trying to lure subscribers with free talk-time

The much-touted and awaited mobile number portability (MNP), which allows a subscriber to change the operator while keeping the same number, is turning out to be just a ‘feel good’ facility, or what is termed in medical terminology as 'placebo', a simulated medical intervention that can produce a perceived improvement.

Although the initial euphoria for MNP is still there, its impact so far has been lacklustre and it may not be a game changer for the telecom industry.  According to a PTI report, based on the daily MNP figure reported by telecom service providers, there has been request from over 11 lakh customers to switch from their existing network. This is just 0.15% of the total mobile subscribers in the country.

While the subscriber may feel that, s/he has now got rid of a troublesome operator through MNP, which would be the placebo effect, there could be different issues with the new operator.

"Our initial survey to ascertain the likely impact of MNP post implementation leads us to believe that our early thesis has been ratified. We continue to believe that MNP may not be a game changer, as subscriber switching will be restricted between a few service providers, but it could impact margins as customers are offered more bang (minutes) for the buck," Edelweiss Securities Ltd said in a research report.

Mobile operators in the Mumbai circle are offering free talk-time for post-paid subscribers, mainly to reduce the churning due to MNP. Bharti Airtel is offering 15,000 seconds or 250 minutes talk-time free on a rental of Rs249 per month. Vodafone is offering 12,000 seconds or 200 minutes on a rental of Rs299 and 800 local minutes free on a rental of Rs399 per month. Idea Cellular, one of the late entrants in the lucrative Mumbai circle, is offering more free minutes in order to grab more subscribers through MNP. Idea is offering 400 minutes talk-time free on a rental of Rs179 per month.

Interestingly, state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharti are waiving all charges, including the Rs19 porting fee, SIM card charges and activation fees. Idea, on the other hand is collecting Rs19 as porting fee and Rs99 for SIM card and activation from new subscribers who are porting their connection.

Although the exact number of subscribers who have changed their operator through MNP is not available, according to a report in the Business Standard, Idea has been the biggest gainer and Reliance Communication (RCom) has been the biggest loser so far. In the Mumbai circle, Idea has already got 12,300 subscribers through MNP, while Vodafone has 11,252, Bharti 94 and Aircel 3,389 subscribers. RCom is said to have lost 9,645 subscribers, the newspaper reported.

MNP is beneficial for both post-paid and pre-paid subscribers and analysts suggest that the lower porting charge would give a further impetus to prepaid churn. “The TRAI-notified porting charges (PC) is lower than our and the industry’s expectations and this would boost higher uptake of MNP from the low average revenues per user (ARPU) segment, mostly prepaid subscribers, leading to higher churn rates from the current 4.5%-8% per month, at least in the short run,” Anand Rathi Financial Services said in a report.

Of the total number of mobile phone subscribers in India, only 5% are from the post-paid segment. Interestingly, it has been revealed that out of the estimated 70 crore subscribers, 70% are active users.

According to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), industry post-paid tariff is about 80% higher than pre-paid tariff. This could be one reason for post-paid subscribers to go in for MNP. Other reasons why subscribers are changing the operator are poor network quality, high tariff and poor quality of customer service.

Fitch Ratings expects pricing pressure, which so far had been on the pre-paid segment, to spread to the post-paid segment after MNP, although to a lesser extent. In addition, new entrants and smaller wireless telecoms will get a stronger chance to compete against incumbent leaders in the post-paid segment where the annual churn rate is only 12%-24% compared to 50%-70% in pre-paid, the ratings agency said.

Standard Chartered Securities (India) echoed this in a note, saying, "MNP will have an impact on post-paid tariffs, however, the overall impact will be limited given that post-paid is 12%-18% of total revenues. Given the greater stickiness of post-paid and the 3G 'promise', the incumbents may not be required to match the tariff offers completely. Scattered 3G distribution will also make it difficult for other 3G players like Tata-Docomo and Aircel to make a broad-based impact."

Few operators have seen any noticeable change in the area of corporate subscribers. According to Edelweiss, corporate customers believe MNP will not make them change a service provider. However, they are expecting attractive schemes as far as 3G services are concerned. "Within 3G services, it is mainly internet access which corporate customers believe will be of some interest, while video calling is not expected to be a key area of interest. Also, on 3G services there is limited activity that corporates have experienced from their service providers, indicating that there is still some time for 3G services to be launched in Mumbai," the brokerage added.

While the initial euphoria associated with anything new is still there for MNP, according to information there is no significant change in the subscriber market share of operators. Although operators are trying to woo subscribers with many offers, they may not be able to sustain this given the costs associated with the 3G rollout and proposed changes in the new telecom policy (NTP-2011).

The recently announced framework for NTP-2011, or auction-based spectrum allocation, could impose a further burden on the new entrants, currently stuck at 4.4MHz. While incumbents would also have to shell out more for excess spectrum beyond 6.2Mhz, the impact might be offset by the proposal to replace the slab-wise spectrum charge, currently at 3%-8% of adjusted gross revenues (AGR) for 4.4Mhz-15Mhz with an uniform revenue share irrespective of spectrum held.

TRAI is likely to recommend the modalities of new spectrum pricing norms and spectrum charge, after which the policy is likely to be finalised.

Sachin M
1 decade ago
I have been using Loop Mobile (erstwhile BPL) since last 6 years now. Till now I was contemplating change of service provider. However, today I received an SMS from Loop saying that I being an old customer am eligible for 1000 free SMS every month for a year and for that I need send an OK sms to get registered. The moment I did so, they sent me another SMS saying "Your request has been registered. The contractual period of this offer is 1 year". This wasnt disclosed in the previous SMS. So, I called to ask the implication of the same and was told that i couldn't opt for MNP for a year now. Obviously I got the same cancelled. But the audacity of the operator is unbelievable for having tried such cheap tricks to retain customers. For this reason alone I would now really consider moving away from Loop Mobile. Also, how do I lodge a complaint against this unfair practice by Loop Mobile to TRAI?
1 decade ago
Cell phone service providers are like a courier companies.No single courier efficient PAN india.So each telecom service provider in certain geographical area my be better among others.

Users will have to wait and watch for some time before changing a service provider.

OR take a risk of 90 days before shifting to another service provider.
1 decade ago
MNP was much hyped up in 2010. It seemed to be the best solution for me, as I had experienced poor connectivity, quality and response from MTNL, but was stuck as I did not want to change my number.
Due to the advertisements, I opted for 'What an IDEA, sirji' but due to the delay in being provided the connection (approximately 40 days and still no response), I decided to go for Airtel. I had been an Airtel user for around 4 years but switched over due to problems of overbilling and poor customer service. But, airtel connectivity and quality was the best, which is the only reason I opted for Airtel. I received an immediate response and have the request number, which has to be communicated with authorized dealer, sim charges non refundable of Rs. 500 paid after which the servie might take around 18 hours to get activated ( as claimed by airtel).
If Idea improves the quality of their service, they might have not lost users (14-16 of my acquaintances) who switched over to other providers as Idea takes more than a month to provide the MNP connection. All talk and no action is what Idea's response is to MNP.
1 decade ago
MNP users will be less intially, as cell user HAS to consume talk time. It is NOT transferable. Those who are unhappy will switch once there talk time is nil. So I guess we may not see mass effect on a single day or in a week. We have to wait for few months to know real effect.
1 decade ago
Everytime I see the report , I come to know rcom loosing. I am surprised at the understanding of the customer. I have been using reliance since its inception, I am a postapaid user. I have fund their services extremely compitative and well networked. 15000 second talktime which airtel is offering now , the same is offered by reliance from years back. Everyone knows , for data the cdma technology scores over GSM.
My experience with reliance has been too good and i would suggest people to rethink before abondening them
1 decade ago
I am a self employed professional-took Tata CDMA connection @ 6 years back.Due to my client base-in spite of POOR service,refusal to convert from pre paid to post paid,poor call center- I kept my service provider. However finally I was fed up and took an additional GSM connection from Vodafone (before MNP).

However I kept my TATA CDMA connection working for not loosing my clients.

I have opted for MNP for my TATA CDMA number (tata cdma number was converted from pre paid to post paid after following up for SIX MONTHS-poor network,non availability of recharge vouchers etc.).

Now tata is following up with me asking for reasons for shifting my tata cdma no. to another operator.(tata as an operator was SLEEPING-FOR SIX YEARS - AND WAS LIKE A EARLIER GOVT.MONOPOLY TELECOM SERVICE PROVIDER LIKE BOMBAY TELEPHONES).

With MNP in place and loosing post paid customer-tata is wooing to retain existing customers by hook or crook.


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