Thai number portability takes small steps forward with trial roll-out

CNET Asia blogger Jesada Chandraprasert has the low down on the introduction of mobile number portability (MNP) in Thailand – which readers may recall was originally scheduled for August however the operators failed introduce it and were duly fined.

Jesada explains the significance of the introduction of MNP – which is close to standard in many other markets (remind you of something else beginning with ‘3’ and ending with ‘G’?)

Thailand has more mobile “lines” than traditional land lines, and for most people, it is their lifeline to the rest of the world. Sometimes, people sign with a carrier out of necessity, due to a lack of choice as coverage is provided by a single carrier in their area. The signal may be weak and they may experience dropped calls, but a bad line is better than no line at all. Their number becomes the main contact channel for everything, from banking to emergency contact numbers given to their children’s school.

Later on, a competitor may set up a base station nearby and they find that they not only receive a better signal, they also get a mobile data connection. However, switching to a new carrier often means they have to call up almost everyone they have ever met and done business with to notify them of the number change. 

However don’t all rush to change at once as the system is being trialled in very small steps initially:

MNP launched a few days ago and is limited to 500 number transferrals, 100 for each carrier during this initial phase at 25 designated offices in Bangkok.

To add to Jesada’s thoughts, MNP is not just important for quality of service but also market competition. The opportunity to retain one’s number when moving operators makes the prospect of jumping ship less painful giving operators greater incentive to offer more competitive deals with the aim of luring subscribers from rivals. Often smaller operators are able to be more bold with their offers,  thanks to being younger, more flexible and less risk-averse, in a bid to increase their numbers.

There is also the possibility that number portability may help encourage more accurate measurement of mobile phone users in Thailand. Thailand has more registered phones than there are people, which is clearly not an accurate statistic for active numbers. The chance to hold onto a number may prevent people buying new SIMs and – once old numbers go inactive – less duplicate devices may mean more accurate data for the country’s mobile industry.

However, I’ve heard rumours that many of the operators are not happy at the MNP process system which they believe is somewhat unreliable.

The repercussions of a malfunctioning system will, of course, land squarely at the door of the operators – any mobile user who has issues when moving operators is likely to blame the mobile companies themselves rather than the technology itself. However, as mentioned, with MNP close to standard issue in much of the world, the Thai operators can’t say they haven’t seen this coming.

It just remains to be seen how quickly the system will be up and running to the general public. It will make the market more competitive, which is always welcomed by consumers.