Etisalat and du mobile phone users will soon be able to keep their phone number when they switch operator, according to the head of the Emirates' telecoms regulator.
Mohamed al Ghanim, the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), said "mobile number portability" (MNP) would be ready for consumers to use by the end of March.
MNP is the ability to change mobile operators without buying a new phone number. The service is widely used in North America and Europe.
"It will stimulate competition between the two operators. Every operator will try to hold on to their customers," Mr al Ghanim said on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Innovation Forum yesterday.
Of the UAE's two operators, du and Etisalat, it is the latter that could be affected the most by MNP. Since du launched mobile services in 2007, it has steadily gained on Etisalat and now has about 4.08 million subscribers or 37 per cent of the market. Etisalat has about 7.81 million subscribers.
"There is an opportunity for du because post-paid subscribers of Etisalat might have an old number with their contacts and may be reluctant to switch," said Simon Simonian, the senior vice president of telecom research for Shuaa Capital.
Mr al Ghanim has said in the past that the MNP service would be available in the UAE by the end of last year. He did not disclose why the service has been delayed.
"Both operators will declare readiness by the end of the month and we will test it at the TRA within [the] next week," he said.
"Then we will see if the operators will be ready or not … It doesn't mean that it is ready until we say that is ready."
Last February, many sources told The National that several technical issues between the TRA and Etisalat and du had pushed back the service's roll-out from an expected launch of the first quarter of last year.
Mr Simonian said the regulatory authority should take account of the challenges that Saudi Arabia faced after the kingdom introduced its own MNP service in 2006.
"In the UAE, it depends how [MNP] will be enforced," he said. "The Saudi Arabian experience has been a tedious process based on anecdotal evidence that we have. Customers have said that they'd rather buy another SIM card than go through the process and … I don't think there have been material amount of subscribers who have switched."