BY BONNIE MODIAKGOTLA
Batswana will soon be able to retain their cellphone numbers when changing from one mobile network operator to another, following the ministry of Transport and Communication’s approval of Mobile Number Portability (MNP).
Minister Dorcas Makgato on Wednesday told parliament that the ministry, through Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), will implement the MNP in the 2019/2020 financial year – which begins in April. Makgato said the new developments will allow customers to switch between wireless carriers without fear of losing their numbers, something which has been a stumbling block.
“In other words, customers will have the option to retain their cellular numbers as they change from one cellular service provider to another,’ she said.
“The absence of MNP has been identified as one of the barriers to competition since customers tend to stick to operators even when they are not happy with their services – in fear of losing their specific mobile numbers which they might have used for many years.”
Botswana which has three wireless carriers – Mascom, Orange and BTC Mobile ÔÇô has the world’s highest mobile penetration, and according to Statistics Botswana’s Information and Communication Technology statistics brief for 2018’s second quarter, the sector continues to experience strong growth.
The data shows that in second half of 2018, there were 3.2 million registered sim-cards – a significant figure considering that the country’s estimated population is around 2.1 million. This means the country’s mobile penetration rate comes at 152 percent ÔÇô a figure that is twice the average for other African countries ÔÇô and a little over the world’s average which is projected to grow to 63.4 percent in 2019.
Mascom, the first wireless carrier to operate in the country, has the largest share of the market, estimated at about 60 percent. The 21-year-old company has over the years had its market share chipped at by Orange Botswana and BTC Mobile. The flexibility of customers to switch networks while using the same number is expected to intensify competition among three operators, with older players even more under pressure.
The late entrant to the mobile wars, BTC, has in the past shown support for MNP, and had lobbied BOCRA to allow customers to keep their numbers whenever they want to switch networks. In its 2018 annual report, the only listed local telco says the regulatory environment has to adapt and adopt to the fast changing landscape as the great advancements made in technology are impacting the ICT sector the world over and continue to impact market structure and competition dynamics.
“We continue to lobby the regulator for a more equitable and competitive landscape which is in the best interest of network operators and the public. One such area of discussion is number portability which we believe will significantly contribute to leveling the playing field,” said Anthony Masunga, the managing director of BTCL, the parent company to BTC Mobile.
Masunga’s stance was also confirmed by BTC’s communications department in an interview with the Sunday standard.
“BTC welcomes this decision because it will level the playing field giving customers the ability and liberty to change their mobile network operator while retaining the same mobile phone number for the provision of service,” said Golekanye Molapisi, BTC’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations Manager.
“As it stand, it is not easy for subscribers to switch to an operator of their choice because they have a personal and emotional attachment to the number and are therefore tied to an operator.”