The imminent arrival of 2022 will mark the 16th year since the incomplete introduction of number portability in South Africa. The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has had a decade and a half, plus one year, to fully implement number portability.
Yet, while over one million geographic numbers and eight million mobile numbers have been ported, it remains impossible to port non-geographic numbers used by local businesses, non-profit organisations and consumers for toll-free, shared-cost, premium rate and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services (i.e. numbers starting with 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087).
According to ICASA, the latest delay is in the finalisation of technical specifications for the porting process.
“Finalising the process should be straightforward and the continued delays are inexplicable and contributing to making the cost to communicate higher than it should be for South Africans,” states Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to the Independent Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA).
“ISPA accepts that the focus is correctly on spectrum, but number portability has been calling for 16 years. Some multitasking would ensure that South Africans are not prevented from having full freedom of choice when it comes to telephony providers,” added Cull.
ISPA has been corresponding with ICASA, urging it to bring finalisation to this lingering process. Rooted in the principle of consumer choice, number portability has enabled millions of people to change their network operator without losing their telephone number. This principle is supposed to extend to all South African phone numbers.
ISPA members have reported substantial pent-up demand from users of non-geographic numbers who wish to be able to switch to better alternatives. These users are usually large corporates or NGOs that have invested in the often easy-to-recall numbers as part of their corporate identity.
Industry and the Number Portability Company (NPC) stand ready to port non-geographic numbers. All that remains for the South African economy and consumer to enjoy the full benefits of number portability, is for ICASA to prioritise this process and to pronounce the implementation date.