By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Aliv’s top executive yesterday said number portability’s imminent arrival would enable the new operator to penetrate the ‘big spending’ segment that accounts for up to 20 per cent of the Bahamian market.
Damian Blackburn told Tribune Business that number portability’s introduction was likely “more important in the Bahamas” than other nations, given the mobile market’s maturity and the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) entrenched 15-year monopoly.
He added that its arrival would give Aliv “momentum” going into 2017, and allow it to target customers wanting to keep their existing numbers when they switch to it - particularly the corporate and small business market.
Estimating that this segment accounted for at least 10-20 per cent of the Bahamian mobile market, Mr Blackburn said corporate/business customers tended to be higher spenders, making them important targets for Aliv as it seeks to rapidly build a customer base and share.
Tribune Business disclosed yesterday that regulators are targeting February 14, 2017, for the launch of mobile number portability in the Bahamas, which will allow consumers to keep their existing numbers when switching provider (mostly from BTC to Aliv, at least initially).
Hoping that “no one throws a spanner in the works”, Mr Blackburn hailed the long-awaited determination by the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) on mobile portability’s launch, rules and how it will function.
“I’m happy with the fact it’s been published,” Aliv’s chief executive said of the URCA determination, adding that company executives had “been working closely” with BTC representatives and regulators on a working group to make number portability a reality.
“We’re hoping that the final step, URCA’s publication, will lead to the February 14 launch, and no one will throw a spanner in the works,” Mr Blackburn added.
“It’s very important if competition is to come in, and we’re very happy with the way URCA ran the process and the collaboration between our team and BTC’s to form the rules. It was a three-way effort, and it’s not a completely straightforward process.
“It’s [number portability] not something we were reliant on, but it will help certain segments of customers to switch to us, particularly the corporate market.”
Mr Blackburn said businessmen who had retained the same number for many years would likely want to keep it when they switched to Aliv, so customers and clients could still easily contact them and keep commerce flowing.
URCA’s determination acknowledged that number portability was key to facilitating competition and consumer choice, as its absence created a potential deterrent to Bahamians switching provider.
“If the Bahamas manages to implement it by then, it will have done well,” Mr Blackburn said of the February 14, 2017, launch date.
“We believe we’re the champions for consumer choice, and this is a big step for certain segments of the market; corporate users and those small businesses.
“People have known their number for many years, and if they want to transfer to our services this will be big news for them. It means they can switch service providers more easily than if they had to change their number.”
Mr Blackburn said that in comparison to other Caribbean markets that had already introduced mobile competition, number portability’s introduction was likely to be more important in the Bahamas.
Pointing to the fact that this market was relatively mature, with total mobile subscriber numbers not moving out of the 300,00-310,000 range, the Aliv chief executive said BTC had been able to entrench its monopoly, building loyalty and brand recognition that would be tough to penetrate.
“Given that liberalisation has come so late in the Bahamas, it probably has higher importance than in other, less mature markets,” Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business of number portability.
“Without it, we, in large part, would not be able to add 10, 15, 20 per cent of the market not wanting to change their number. That’s the segment of the market that tends to be spending money.”
Mr Blackburn added that his 10-20 per cent estimate for the corporate, higher spending market segment could be an “underestimate”.
He said number portability’s arrival would both enable Aliv to target this market and keep its service roll-out on track, setting the new operator up for “a big year” in terms of its build-out.
“We’ve made our plans through the first quarter 2017 with that in mind,” Mr Blackburn said of number portability. “We were depending on it, but it wasn’t 100 per cent critical.
“Hopefully, it all happens. It will be great for us, and give us a good bit of momentum going into the first quarter. It can only be good for the consumer.”
Mr Blackburn said number portability would eventually work both ways, enabling Aliv customers to switch to BTC once the process settled down.