Jamaica has number portability… now what?

Jamaica has finally launched number portability, but once the initial excitement dies down, what might be the real impact of number portability?
After a highly protracted conceptualisation and implementation process, local number portability (for both the fixed-line and mobile/cellular services) was finally launched in Jamaica last week Monday, 22 June.  In the days that followed, both of the country’s major telecoms carriers, Digicel and LIME, have been boasting about the numbers of persons who have switched to the other’s network. In light of all of this excitement, and once the dust begins to settle, what might be the real impact of number portability in Jamaica?

Number portability 101

As outlined in earlier articles, number portability (NP) refers to the ability for customers to retain their telephone numbers should they switch service providers. In order to have such a system established and available for customers to invoke when they desire, cooperation from all of the participating service providers is essential, and they would also need to upgrade their systems to permit this activity.

In most Caribbean countries that have successfully implemented NP (see our most recent Snapshot to learn which others in addition to Jamaica have NP), the providers have been required bear the considerable costs associated with that activation. Further, the provider with the largest customer base – who arguably had the most to lose from NP –frequently was reluctant to participate in the process, and would have been a key contributor to the delays experienced.

The Jamaican experience to date

Jamaica’s experience was no different from other countries, where the main providers of fixed-line and mobile cellular services, at one point or another, were the cause of delays in the process. Currently, and with number portability now in effect, both Digicel and LIME are offering a broad range of inducements for customers to switch:

  • Digicel – prepaid customers – a free SIM card and $500 credit for a year (for those who switched on 26 and 27 June); and in select stores, a free Avvio 750 smartphone (Source: Digicel)
  • Digicel – postpaid customers – a free a free Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 or a Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini, plus a free two-month subscription and a 10% rebate when customers switch to Digicel and activate any of its SMART plans (Source: Digicel)
  • LIME: a free SIM card with $200 credit for customers who switch by 31 July 2015 (Source: LIME).

As of the end of first week of NP, and as reflected in this week’s news roundup, both Digicel and LIME are claiming success in new customers who are switching from another provider.

What might it all mean?

After the euphoria ends and the dust has settled, we will then begin to see the true value (if any) of number portability in Jamaica. In the interim, a few observations are shared.

First, with the launch of NP in Jamaica, both Digicel and LIME has implemented short-term promotions to encourage customers to switch. Accordingly, the customers who switch to access the free offers may not necessarily be loyal to their new provider, and after 90 days (when they can switch again), they may even switch back to their previous provider. As a result, once those promotions end, and the status quo is established, customers switching networks could be minimal.

Second, Jamaica currently has only two telecoms carriers – Digicel and LIME – which effectively is a duopoly. Both parties have been sparring with each other over the course of 15 years, and to varying degrees, their pricing and product offerings are similar. Hence once the novelty of NP wears off and the promotions end, again switching between providers is expected to be minimal.

Finally, in a country – similar to many others across the region – where customers had two or more handsets in order to capitalise on the cheaper on on-network calls and benefits, NP in Jamaica will have an impact on this scenario. Essentially, with NP in effect, a phone number will no longer identify the network, and the premise to have two phones increasingly will become moot. However, providers may see an increase in off-network traffic, and a corresponding increase in revenue from off-net calls.


Image credit:  hddod/flickr



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