x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New delay on mobile phone number portability

The TRA has changed tack on a mobile service that would allow customers to change operators while keeping their phone number.

BARCELONA // The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has changed tack on the roll-out of a mobile service that would allow customers to change operators while keeping their phone number. Changes to the "mobile number portability" plans are expected to delay the introduction of the service, which is already behind schedule.

The scheme was supposed to be implemented in the Emirates last year, but because of the time needed to resolve several technical issues between the regulator and the telecoms operators, Etisalat and du, the service's launch was pushed back to the first quarter of this year. But several sources have told The National that the delay is due to a decision by the TRA this month, after it made a last-minute switch from Tech Mahindra of India to Telcordia of the US as portability provider.

"We could have flipped the switch yesterday, but there have been issues on the TRA's end," said a senior executive from du who asked not to be named. The TRA has denied that claim but has not said when number portability will now be available. "The stated points and assumptions are considered not true. Furthermore the TRA has elected to adopt a different strategy with regards to the launch of [mobile number portability]," the TRA said.

The TRA did not respond to a request for more details on the regulator's new mobile number portability strategy. Jon Collins, the vice president of Telcordia for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, declined to comment on any contracts with the TRA, citing non-disclosure agreements, but did say the company had been providing mobile number portability in the region. "We were successfully chosen by the [Communications and Information Technology Commission] to provide their number portability programme for the Saudi Arabian market," Mr Collins said. "We have built the system that helped keep track of that."

Mr Collins said that mobile number portability is a major part of Telcordia's business. "We are recognised as a major player in that space, and when opportunities come up in the world, we're an active bidder for those opportunities," he said. "At a national level, with the regulator, we win most of those programmes." Last month, Mohammed al Ghanim, the director general of the TRA, acknowledged that the roll-out of mobile number portability had encountered technical problems.

"2010 is not going to pass without number portability, but we have run into a number of technical problems," Mr al Ghanim said. "With number portability, we have to have a platform in which both operators can communicate and the process has to be easy for the customers. That has a certain technical complication [and] we are running into a delay in its implementation." But even if mobile number portability is eventually launched in the UAE, its success is not guaranteed. While the scheme has proved disruptive and popular in other parts of the world, Simon Simonian, a telecoms analyst at Shuaa Capital, found that demand for it in Saudi Arabia was weak.

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae