Friday, May 7, 2021

Portability: Keeping your mobile number (Conclusion)

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Mobile number portability (MNP) reduces the switching costs of customers desiring to switch their subscriptions from one operator to another. These switching costs include informing friends and business partners about the new number, missing calls from uninformed people, and updating company web pages, brochures, and business cards.

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WHICH NETWORK?

On the other hand, MNP makes it more difficult for the customers to know which network they are calling to. Operators are no longer identified by the prefixes of the phone numbers, making it more difficult to find out the actual prices of the calls. This problem can be alleviated by subscribing to a single-rate call plan, if possible.

Manila Bulletin columnist, tech blogger and internet advocate Tonyo Cruz said that, once MNP is implemented in the Philippines, all mobile phone users need to do to port or transfer their existing mobile handset number is to go to an outlet of their chosen new telco service provider and request the porting of this number.

According to Cruz, that’s built in to the GSM (global system for mobile communications) technology we are already using. The subscriber’s new telco can then transfer the existing number to a new subscriber identification module (SIM) card. This process takes but a matter of hours to complete.

The statement of Pierre Tito Gallo, the co-founder of Democracy.NET.PH, about the supposed objection of the existing telcos to MNP brings to mind this passage of Smura’s Finland study: “From the network operator point of view, MNP gives rise to additional costs, related to investments to number portability databases and upgrading and configuring the switching equipment.”

Smura also wrote that “[f]rom the service operator point of view, MNP makes it easier to attract new customers—and harder to keep the existing ones. In other words, MNP increases the churn rates of service operators.”

The term “churn rates,” in this context, means “the annual percentage rate at which customers stop subscribing to a service.” The Finnish study states that “MNP has been recognized as an important driver of competition by regulators around the world.”

Gallo said MNP provides convenience to telco service end-users.

“I don’t have to text people ‘this is my new number’ when I switch providers,” he explained.

He also said that “all numbers [that are] active and being used can be [ported]—from Globe post-paid to Smart post-paid, from Globe post-paid to Smart prepaid, from Globe post-paid to Globe prepaid, from Globe prepaid to Smart post-paid,” and so on.

SECURITY?

The idea of MNP being used to facilitate foreign countries’ unauthorized and unwanted intrusion into the Philippines telecommunications systems has been raised over social media and in the legislature.

To both Gallo and Cruz, this is a concern that comes a little late in the day to beef up the country’s cybersecurity.

Gallo said this in response to questions about such concerns.

“About 80% of our internet traffic goes overseas” and, “because of our penchant for social media, Youtube, and streaming, much of that 80% goes to the US,” he pointed out.

If spying is a concern, then we shouldn’t just look at China.

Gallo explained that the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) “has firehosed more [information] from us, [for] far longer than the perceived China threat. In fact, because of [the Philippines’] poor cybersecurity and near zero cyberdefense posture, everyone has.”

Cruz hit another aspect of the Senate version of the measure authored by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian: “It appears [as if] the bill is about security. They want to assign you a number, or have yourself assign you a number for life!”

This, he said, is “stupid and it exploits legitimate consumer demands. The lifetime number schtick could mean you’re stuck with a number even if you want to change it, or it gets stolen, or misused by others for crime. There is no country with this lifetime number chenes. There is number portability. That is all.”

He did point out that China Telecom does implement number portability “in its Hong Kong subsidiary.”

Both the House and Senate versions of the MNP measure call for the porting process to take “no more than 24 hours.”

The process itself goes this way: The subscriber makes a request to transfer his or her number to the donor telco, at which point the telco will check any obligations the subscriber may have to settle any existing obligations or unpaid bills the subscriber has.

Once this is done, the donor telco will send notice to the recipient telco, which will acknowledge the transfer, complete the porting process and turnover to them of the mobile phone number within 24 hours or less, deactivating the number from the donor telco list of subscribers and activating it on the recipient telco list. This process is “just type and click,” Gallo said.

He also said the MNP process “requires a user to want to port.”

Gallo also said that “proper 21st Century communications are anchored on three principles: They are decentralized. They are distributed. They are redundant. Without these three things, communications will be inefficient, or worse, unreliable.”

MNP, Gallo said “is a competition measure, not a ‘pure’ ICT reform measure.”

At the end of the day, a very old adage still holds much wisdom: “It isn’t secret if anyone else knows it.” End-user security is not something that can be protected by legislation alone. Security, especially of data, is still mainly the end-user’s lookout. There is still no bulletproof (or hacker-proof, or spy-proof) digital communications system. G

 

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