Especially in the current economic climate, businesses can ill afford to lose customers through changing their contact details, which has made many companies think twice about leaving their current mobile and fixed line providers. When factoring in the cost of changing business cards, letterheads and signage, losing a number when switching providers was not feasible for most businesses.
With the advent of local number portability in Cayman, it will now be possible for businesses and individuals to retain their numbers even when moving to another provider.
“The telephone number is quite often the last hurdle to switching a provider, as we become attached to a number. So for a consumer and for the industry it’s really about ultimate choice, about removing that last hurdle as it were, that semi permanently links a particular consumer to an operator,” said Tony Ritch, general manager of LIME Cayman Islands.
Local number portability will allow businesses and consumers to switch mobile or fixed line providers while retaining their current phone numbers. However, although mobile and fixed line numbers can be ported, a mobile number cannot be ported to a fixed line, nor can a fixed line number be ported to a mobile.
Number portability has been a long time coming in Cayman, with numerous deadlines coming and going while the local service providers worked to come to an agreement on technology and procedures. However, according to Mr. Ritch the consortium of companies working towards LNP in Cayman has been working feverishly behind the scenes under the guidance of the Information and Communication Technology Authority.
“In terms of complexity, LNP is one of the most complex things that we have embarked on ever since we have liberalised the market,” said Mr. Ritch. This, along with the need for consensus among members of the consortium on procedures and systems to be employed, goes a long way to explaining the protracted nature of the implementation process.
“We have put quite a number of years into LNP in terms of actually preparing for it in terms of bringing on board additional resources, project management skills, paying consultants with experience in implementing LNP in other parts of the world,” said Mr. Ritch.
The company gained LNP implementation experience in two other markets where it operates; Jersey, which has a subscriber base slightly larger than Cayman, and Panama, where LNP was implemented in November last year.
“We have taken a lot of reference from them in terms of how it went and some of that material we’ve actually been able to use here successfully,” said Mr. Ritch.
“Cayman is actually at a stage where we’re leading. No one else in the English-speaking part of the region has actually implemented local number portability, so for us it’s leading edge as an industry.”
Mr. Ritch said he believed that once Cayman has implemented number portability, other countries in the region would follow swiftly, depending on the success of local implementation.
Preparing for the implementation has definitely not been painless, and as the telecoms service provider with the biggest infrastructure investment in Cayman, the process involved quite a substantial investment from LIME.
“In terms of the technological capabilities we’ve spent, I don’t want to give an exact number, but quite a substantial sum, in the millions of dollars, in terms of upgrading our network to ensure that when [local number portability] takes place, as much automation as we can afford is embedded into the actual solution so that customers and the industry in Cayman will benefit,” said Mr. Ritch.
As the incumbent telecoms provider in the Cayman Islands, it might have been assumed that LIME would stand to benefit from resisting the implementation of local number portability. However, according to Mr. Ritch it was decided a number of years ago that the company would support the implementation of number portability in all the countries in the region where it operates.
“It would probably be easy to say that in the normal scheme of things, as the incumbent we would have more to lose, but as a business we have decided that this is something that we want to embrace,” said Mr. Ritch.
However, Mr. Ritch admitted that the initial reaction of the company to the concept might not have been to welcome it with open arms.
“Are we confident? Yes. I think it would be fair to say that we probably went from a slight degree of nervousness in the early days to learning from other businesses, learning from other experiences, to feeling much more confident today about what we think of as being the right thing for the industry,” he said.
Mr. Ritch said that much of this confidence comes from being the only 360 telecoms provider in Cayman, providing mobile, fixed line and Internet services.”
“The competitive strengths that we have boosts that confidence and much of that comes from the fact that we are not just a one trick pony. We’re providing a suite of services that in some shape or form enhances the lives of most people here in Cayman, and that’s not taken lightly,” he said.
The impact of local number portability varies greatly by market. However, Mr. Ritch said he expects a fair amount of activity in the Cayman market once portability is rolled out.
“With local number portability being that last barrier that some customers attach themselves to before they switch services, if that is what providers are hanging on to, then their days are numbered. It really forces the industry to move one level higher again in terms of providing great customer service, a great experience,” he said. According to Mr. Ritch, there are those that believe that as Cayman has been a liberalised market for quite some time and competition in the mobile space has been quite fierce, there will not be much movement. However, there is another school of thought that says because of the inherent volatility in the mobile space, there is likely to be greater movement there than in fixed line.
One of the aspects that may well be influenced is Cayman’s nature as a two handset market, with many consumers owning two handsets, one with each mobile provider.
“We have a large number of customers who basically want to take advantage of on net and off net rates. So when they’re calling LIME they use one number because they get the best rate, and when they’re calling friends on another carrier’s network they call with the other phone because they get the best rate,” said Mr. Ritch. At present, users can recognise the central office codes, so they know which provider a number is with. However, depending on the success of local number portability, this might become increasingly difficult.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how that shapes the market, whether or not we move to a one handset market. Today you might have a plan where you have a bucket of minutes that apply to on net calls, but when you call the other provider you have a very different rate,” said Mr. Ritch.
However, he believes that should local number portability uptake be significant in the mobile market, it may force providers to switch to minutes that apply across all local networks, rather than just to calls within the network.
“What consumers really want is simplicity. They don’t want to wonder whether a number is still with the original network or not,” he said.
It is widely expected that consumers will lead the charge when making use of local number portability, with businesses waiting to see whether the process works smoothly for consumers before jumping in.
“If it doesn’t work well for a consumer with a single line, imagine a business with 30 lines or 40 lines.
“If it doesn’t work well for someone switching a mobile phone and they are out of service for hours, imagine a business with 200 staff members – they cannot afford that,” said Mr. Ritch.
However, he is adamant that the amount of work and investment the consortium has put into preparing for local number portability should ensure that the process progresses smoothly.
“If it’s a process that seeks to hinder and frustrate it won’t be worth it. We didn’t spend the money that we spent in terms of embracing local number portability and setting what we think will be a very strong example of how it should be done across the region to then come to the very end and say, you know what, let’s just make sure it doesn’t work,” said Mr. Ritch.
Experience in other markets has shown that where there are too many glitches with the implementation of number portability the effects can be felt for years after.
“What other studies have shown is where it has not gone well during implementation then the entire process for many years can be deemed as a failed one and you don’t get the level of porting or activity because people have to be able to trust it,” said Mr. Ritch.