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MNP: Multiple Number Possession?

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

What is the fuss over MNP when a substantial number of subscribers are already switching their networks by simply swapping their networks without paying any extra fee or waiting for the migration to be completed? Recall the latest TV commercial of a brand selling an alluring proposition of changing the SIM with a flip of handset?

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Well, like many other matured markets like Europe, Thailand and Russia,India too is slowly waking up to the trend of multiple SIM users. If the industry estimates are to be believed of all the mobile connections in India, about 10% belong to users with multiple handsets or dual SIM handsets with active SIM cards. That clearly indicates that the actual number of mobile subscribers will be a little lower than where the figures stand today.

Rohan Samarjiva, CEO, LIRNEasia says that according to the survey

conducted by the regional policy research body, there were about 9%

people from surveyed Below the Pyramid group in India said they used

multiple handsets and had more than one SIM.

“If that is the trend in the lower income groups then definitely the number of multiple SIM users is likely to be higher in high income groups, who can afford more than one connection,” he says.

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Though none of the mobile operators' associations in India have concrete numbers on multiple SIM users and the operators prefer not to comment on this, there are evidences of a growing segment of multiple SIM users,who may be using one handset or multiple handsets to access different SIMs.

Idea Cellular recently announced results for the quarter ending June 2009, the company said the average minutes of use per subscriber declined by 0.7 percent, partly due to continuing rise of multiple SIM usage.

Dual SIM technology was initially brought by Chinese phones, but

gradually other companies like Samsung, LG also started making their

presence felt. We are now seeing other players like Nokia and Micromax introducing dual SIM handsets.

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Forget the dual SIM. The industry is now talking about triple SIM handsets.

Meridian Mobile that sells handsets in India under Fly brand alone has more than 18 dual SIM phones and the company says that these are extremely popular with young population in the country and doing good business.

So, there is no denying the fact that the size of multiple SIM users is increasing. However, there is no quantitative data available to assess the pace of the growth. The trend thus throws open two discussion points that the concept of number of SIMs equivalent to mobile users is obsolete and second, when people are already enjoying best of all the networks with multiple SIMs, how successful will be the MNP regime in India.

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But analysts say that this is a usual phenomenon of matured markets.Citing examples from Maldives, Taiwan, Russia and Europe, analysts say penetration figures and subscriber counts are artificially boosted by mobile users that have multiple SIM cards. Pyramid Research's 2009 mobile forecast for Q1 says Russia will add almost 10 mn new subscribers this year, while the market was nearing saturation at year-end 2008 with a penetration of 131%.

Analysts says the ghost SIMs allow users to save money by easily mixing the cheapest service rates of different providers (eg. one operator offers the lowest SMS price and another one the lowest voice price) or having business and personal SIMs in one handset. So, it is not about the network quality alone. The fact is that there is demand for more than one mobile number. Users are looking at solutions for managing more than one phone number.

Bharti Airtel, one of the most congested networks in India, is rumoured to be working on an technology that enables the user to use more than one number on the same SIM. The operator is said to be running trials of the Virtual Phones which can let the customers to use 10 numbers of their choice in a single mobile. The technology is Airtel's own finding from Comvia Technologies, a JV of the South African operator MTN. Indian presence of the technology is likely to be felt soon.

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Some reports have already raised suspicion on the scope of MNP being a hit in India. While a research paper claimed that only 1% of subscribers would opt for MNP, others sound more optimistic. More recently, a study by Nielsen said that 18% of Indians will change their network. Of these,most will be the post paid and high-end subscribers.

Interestingly, in the neighbouring Pakistan that has already implemented MNP, about 25% Bottom of Pyramid users have multiple SIMs. Analysts say that multiple SIMs have more than one benefits. It fulfills the need of deriving the maximum benefit from each operator, and also the need to have separate private numbers. Porting is not a very simple way. Since one may not actually need different handsets to change SIM, while to save cost users don't mind that.?

In India, the need to manage more than one number is more than the need to retain one number. There is no directory system as such and 90% of the subscribers are prepaid. To port the entire family or group to a different number each time is more complex than each one having two SIMs. Thus, what is important right now for the Indian operator is to work on keeping its subscriber hooked to the primary SIM so as to avoid losing revenue to the ghost SIM. The operators need to identify the real need of the Indian subscriber.

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Not that MNP has no significance, it is important to keep the market competitive, but experts say for the regulators to make it a success,the regulator will have to make it cost-effective. The consumers want everything by spending nothing.

So, in the Indian context will MNP make its mark as Mobile Number

Portability or Multiple Number Possession?

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