5 reasons why mobile number portability didn’t take off in India

After multiple and often annoying delays by the Indian telecom, mobile number portability (MNP) was launched without much fanfare. Telcos rather reluctantly jumped on to the bandwagon with some creative ads. IDEA Cellular was the first with Vodafone and Bharti Airtel following up. Did MNP justify the ad spend for these companies? I don’t think so.

Telcos did get excited about the prospect of hordes of subscribers coming their way. Some telcos have offered to apply MNP on their potential customers behalf. That exuberance is only short lived. Now there are complaints across that telcos are making it hard to file an MNP application. Some telcos have suggested that MNP no longer exist.

Since its launch in November 2010, 13 million users have jumped ship. 13 million out of a 850 million (or 596 million, depends on who you ask) subscribers is a paltry number by any standards.

Telcos and the companies which implemented the MNP in India were expecting more. They have not considered several factors. Maybe they did but weren’t very vocal about it as MNP is more of a government push. Now it looks more and more like a government initiative.

5 reasons why MNP didn’t take off in India :

Too many players

India has 15 telecom players offering their services. Though it is beginning to change, Indian telecom players went into a over-competitive mode and slashed down tariffs heavily. With no obvious differentiation and with no difference in the quality of service offered by the telcos, not many people are willing to change their numbers. This should not be mistaken for loyalty.

Prepaid nation

India is a pre-paid nation. With over 90% of the subscriber population loving their pre-paid connections and with no real cost in maintaining a number other than an occasional recharge, people are finding MNP too much of a hassle. Don’t like the connection? No problem, get a new one and still keep the old one. You know, one for incoming and one for outgoing. Or one for local and one for roaming. It’s all possible.

Dual SIM and multiple SIM phones

Now these things are ubiquitous. If you are a mobile handset manufacturer and you don’t have a heavy portfolio of dual SIM phones with FM Radio and a torch light, then you are doomed. You can just ask Nokia how Dual SIM’s have dented its prospects in India. With dual, triple and multiple SIM’s, the cost of keeping a unused number is remarkably low. People often check for what’s good in the prepaid world, get that connection (really doesn’t matter whose service it is) and pop-in the SIM into the empty slot of the phone. SIM’s are popped in while no SIM’s are popped out. That explains low uptake for MNP and to some extent explains India’s 200 million ghost connections.


Despite the privatization and the competition, Indians are still wary of the paperwork and bureaucracy. The process might have been simple, but the notion of going to some office, and dealing with a customer service rep who doesn’t smile is not a favorite pastime for many Indians. It is much convenient to get a dual SIM phone and get a new connection from a different telco.

You know, the new connections come in a flash. The paperwork is all taken care of and all you have to do is sign. That process is streamlined, at least.

Other guy is no different

Ask 15 people about which telco’s network has the best coverage, and you are bound to get 15 different answers. There is no general brand recall that a particular telco has the best network coverage. Everybody is good in some areas and everybody is equally bad in some areas. So why change?